Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Monday, August 15, 2011
Jolly Rancher (part of Hershey’s) introduced their Jolly Rancher Fruit Chews ten years ago. The chews are individually wrapped and have a texture similar to Starburst or an intense taffy. When I first tried them they were sold in a long stack of pieces, much like Starburst.
When I was at the convenience store a couple of weeks ago I saw the newer packaging which is a little, brightly colored paperboard box. It holds the same amount of candy, 2.06 ounces 14 pieces). The Jolly Rancher Tropical Fruit Chews come in four flavors: Pineapple, Strawberry-Kiwi, Lemon-Lime and Tropical Punch.
What exactly makes these Jolly Ranchers? When they were first introduced Jolly Ranchers became widely known because of their smooth dissolving texture with no air bubbles and intense flavors. Their slogan is Famous for Flavor and when I think of the brand I do identify it with my first experience with Green Apple. The company was founded in 1949 in Colorado, but the national obsession with the candies didn’t begin until after Beatrice Foods took over the candy in 1966 and distributed them nationally.
Hershey’s now owns Jolly Ranchers and has expanded the brand to include Gummis, Lollipops, Jelly Beans and Chews. All feature intense flavors but very generic flavors on the whole with bright colors.
The chews are rectangular, one inch long and 3/4 of an inch wide. They’re soft and pliable and a cross in texture between Starburst and Now and Later.
I was happy to see that I picked a box where Pineapple was the densest flavor. The chew doesn’t smell like anything but has an immediate tart and floral flavor of pineapple. The texture isn’t entirely smooth like Starburst, but retains its flavor and texture, kind of like gum all the way to the end when it dissolves.
Lemon-Lime was quite zesty and has a little sizzle to it, it’s so intense. The flavor is more on the lime side of lemon-lime, but not so tart that it’s unbearable. It reminds me of a Gin and Tonic without the Gin.
Tropical Punch was in the intense red wrapper and was nearly maroon when unwrapped. The flavor is peppery and very much like Hawaiian Punch, strong guava and papaya notes along with some hints of raspberry and pineapple. There was a slight artificial color aftertaste, but it couldn’t really rival the riot of artificial flavors.
Strawberry-Kiwi was pink and looked like bubble gum. The flavor combination was really intense and I could actual perceive the different fruits - the Kiwi was grassy and had notes of the seeds and the strawberry was tangy and with the toasted sugar flavors of cotton candy.
Overall, it’s a good flavor variety to add to Jolly Ranchers line. I question the packaging in a box. It’s nice to pick through the assortment for the flavor I want, but the box was only about half full, so it took up far more volume than necessary. I like the compactness of the Starburst style package, which also protects the pieces very well with double sealed wrapping.
They’re made in Mexico and are not Kosher and have no notice of nuts or gluten or any other common allergen (it does contain soy). It does contain gelatin so it’s not suitable for vegetarians.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I consider myself an expert on candy, not just an expert on eating it, but actually what’s going on with candy and the people who make it. I’m on oodles of mailing lists and I read news feeds and trade magazines voraciously. So I’m always a little surprised and slightly disappointed to see a new candy on the shelves that I didn’t know was coming. Really, why would you sneak a candy onto store shelves without at least including it on your own website or a list that you publish in a trade magazine?
I was at Walgreen’s over the weekend (at regular circuit where I also stop at RiteAid and sometimes 7-11) checking to see if there were any new candies to review. Imagine my surprise when I found Limited Edition Twizzlers Pull ‘n’ Peel Grape actually hiding underneath the Watermelon Pull ‘n’ Peel. Not only was it on sale, but there was also a little coupon dispenser, so the regular price of $2.79 was ultimately $1.65.
The package is about 12 inches long, but the Twizzlers themselves are less than 9.5 inches long ... so there’s a lot of useless and deceptive space in the package.
The color is strange and matte, like the other Pull ‘n’ Peel varieties of Twizzlers. (The classic Twizzlers twists look like they’re made of some sort of pliable acrylic.)
Each cable of Pull ‘n’ Peel has nine strands and weights about an ounce. It’s also only 100 calories, so it’s a lot of candy to indulge in for a very low calorie cost. They’re soft and easy to pull apart (though every once in a while I’d break a string while peeling it from the others). The surface is soft and not at all greasy or sticky unless you get it wet, then it sticks very nicely to itself.
Imagine a product that takes the most memorable qualities from PlayDoh and Grape Pixy Stix. You’re thinking, “What fun! It’s candy you can play with!” But it’s not quite an even contribution from its parents, apparently candy genetics has some ideas about which traits are dominant. It has the mild and soft texture of a pliable molding clay but also some of the scent of it. (PlayDoh is also made of a wheat flour base.) But still, it smells like grape drink or Pixy Stix, but the flavor is less grape and more purple. There is some fake grape in there, but mostly the flavor notes come from the strong bitterness and strange inky qualities of the artificial colors. There’s no hint of tartness or anything else, just a mild sweetness.
The chew is good, though the lack of tang gives it a doughy flavor overall. Eventually it dissolves into a pasty puddle in my mouth along with some larger bits that stick to the sides of my molars. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste: a metallic, aluminum flavor.
American Licorice, the West Coast rival of Twizzlers recently re-issued their Grape Vines. I happened to have some sitting around to compare. The flavor of the Grape Vines is actually authentic, it tastes like raisins and concord grape juice, if only slightly. Even eating a few of those couldn’t push that aftertaste of the Twizzlers out of my mouth though.
Twizzlers did a great thing when they made the cinnamon-flavored Twizzlers Fire Pull ‘n’ Peel. Those need to come back and these need to be retired forever. (Except in cases where parents are trying to wean their children off of eating PlayDoh and need these as a positive substitution, but perhaps by prescription from a pediatrician only.)
Thursday, July 14, 2011
It’s their new Air Delight Aerated Milk Chocolate. I’ve already covered the Air Delight Kisses, which were sent to me by the National Confectioners Association back during The Sweets & Snacks Expo. The bar was supposed to go on sale shortly after that in June nationwide. Believe me, I tried to find it. Southern California may be the first for movie premieres, but we’re often the last for candy rollouts. I tried Walgreen’s, RiteAid, Target, Ralph’s, Gelson’s, Von’s and CVS. Eventually, by mid June the Kisses showed up at the drug stores, but I still couldn’t find the bar. Even more frustrating, the CVS store I was in was advertising the bar on their PA system ... but didn’t actually have it in stock.
I finally found it the other night at a different CVS, and on sale (buy 2 and get 1 free).
The package describes the bar as:
Finally, an end to the effort! I bet you didn’t think about how much effort it actually was to melt things in your mouth. You know, the opening and closing and then application of heat. All of that is solved with this new chocolate bar ... it’s so light, it practically inserts itself into your mouth. Wait, no. No, it doesn’t. You apply the exact same effort, except for the possible fact that this bar weighs 1.44 ounces instead of the 1.55 so it is actually a lighter bar.
The bar is thick but also a bit more narrow than the standard Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar. Both bars I picked up were unbroken and unblemished. They have six narrow segments that cleave off easily to reveal the little air bubbles within.
Since the bar is aerated, the snap and bite is softer. It’s not that it’s melted or anything, it’s just quieter or something. It does seem to melt quicker and has a stronger scent (perhaps because of the increased surface area on the exposed surfaces). The flavor is undeniably Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. If you don’t like the sweet, caramelly and tangy flavor of Hershey’s, you’re really not going to like this. The fudgy cheesecake flavors are more noticeable now that the texture matches that more closely. It’s really filling, I was surprised. I took each section as two bites and took quite a while to eat it. It felt like a lot more chocolate than 1.44 ounces.
As far as the success of Hershey’s aerated bar, I’d say they’ve done a great job. It’s exactly what you’d want if you wanted a bubbly Hershey’s milk chocolate experience. I found it far too sweet and gave the back of my throat that “acidic burp” feeling. So if you’re looking for a satisfying actual chocolate experience, you might want to step up to something a little higher quality. But if you’ve always wanted a Nestle Aero bar that you can buy at your local store without the import premium, this may be your thing.
This bar was made in Mexico. There’s no allergen statement anywhere on it (though it does actually contain dairy and soy, so you know those for sure).
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Hershey’s has come out with dozens of varieties of Kisses over the past ten years or so. They’ve filled them with Peanut Butter, Cherry Cordial, Caramel and Coconut while others were flavored like Candy Corn and Mint. The new Hershey’s Kisses Air Delight are the first I can think of that are less than other Kisses. They’re not filled with chocolate, they’re filled with little air bubbles.
Aerated chocolate is nothing new, it’s actually quite popular in other countries like the United Kingdom where the Cadbury Wispa is popular and Japan where the Nestle Aero bar comes at least a half a dozen seasonal varieties. (Hershey’s says that aerated chocolate is a $500 million dollar market segment worldwide.) The new Air Delight line is a first for Hershey’s though. In addition to the new Kisses, there’s also a bar version which weighs the same as a regular bar (1.44 ounces) but has almost 20% more volume.
The Kisses are molded, but look like virtually all other non-classic Kisses. The foil wrapper is silver with brown dots on it. The little flag says Air Delight. They do actually feel lighter than a regular Kiss. The bite is soft or if you’re not a chewer, they do melt much quicker. The flavor isn’t quite the regular Hershey’s milk chocolate twang, but there are some sour notes in there. It’s not quite fudgy, but a little salty and milky. I have to say that just a half a dozen were very satisfying and they go nicely with other snacks like pretzels, nuts or Cheez-its. It’s rather smooth, but I wouldn’t call it rich. The melt is like a chocolate frosting - a little on the sugary side and not enough chocolate and certainly not enough cocoa butter. But it’s candy.
So the chocolate is lighter, because they put air bubbles in there, diluting the chocolate. The same “classic bag” of solid Kisses is 12 ounces. The Kisses Air Delight is 9.4 ounces. A standard portion size (200 calories) is 9 pieces (40 grams). For Air Delight it’s 11 pieces (41 grams). So each Air Delight Kiss is approximately 3.64 grams, while a classic Hershey’s Kiss is 4.44 grams, or approximately 18% lighter.
I like the idea of having an American version of a style of confection that seems to be available everywhere else. The addition of air does make the melt more pronounced and heighten the flavors. It’s also a darn clever way of giving consumer less for the same money. But sometimes we, apparently, want less for our money. The fact that chocolate can hold such a texture is a bit of a marvel, but like many molecular gastronomy novelties, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that it’s good. I’ve had my fair share of aerated chocolate products over the years and find that I’m not particularly enamored of them - but since Hershey’s pointed out that there’s a half a billion dollar market out there for the stuff, I guess it’d be silly of them not to try.
Hershey’s marketing information promises that this will be their largest Hershey’s Kisses Brand introduction in 5 years (I’m guessing the last was the now defunct Kissables) and the largest Hershey’s launch in 10 years. What that means for consumers is a greater likelihood that you’ll actually be able to find them in stores, if you’re looking for them. The Kisses Air Delight are supposed to be on shelves in early June 2011.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
About five years ago Twizzlers, a Hershey’s company, introduced Twerpz (original review). They were cute little nibs of flavored “licorice” that had a grainy and flavored cream filling. They were around for about three years then slowly faded away. Twizzlers introduced a few similar products such as the Twizzlers Sweet & Sour Filled Twists, but didn’t relaunch the Twerpz line. In a completely unrelated area, Hershey’s had a line of chocolate bar “Awesome Twosome” brand mashups around the same time. They were regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars with bits of other bars mixed in, like Whoppers, Heath, Almond Joy and Reese’s Pieces.
So it appears that this new product, now under the Jolly Rancher brand is taking over the Twizzlers Twerpz product, but giving it a little twist by combing two flavors in each piece (that’s the Twosome part).
The flavors of the Awesome Twosome Chews are standards in the Jolly Rancher palette. One is Watermelon on the outside and has a Green Apple filling. The other is Cherry on the outside and has an Orange filling. Each has a sour grainy dusting.
The Watermelon/Green Apple is kind of fun because it’s a reverse of the colors of an actual watermelon. That’s about where the fun for me ended. The package itself smells rather plastic and artificial, like bubble gum, wood glue and one of those discount movie palaces that always smells a little damp. They’re soft and chewy and the sour coating isn’t that powerful, just a nice zap.
The tube of watermelon licorice is well flavored, in the Jolly Rancher arena, which is good if you like that sort of thing. The green apple inside goes pretty well, but again, horribly artificial and acidic in a way that reminds me of burps.
The Cherry/Orange was at least made up of one flavor that I generally like. The cherry chew part was very flavorful, but sadly it was a very bad flavor. The use of food coloring and one note of medicinal cherry kept me from enjoying it at all. There were only four of these in my bag, so I didn’t get a lot to try. The paste filling was an interesting texture but in the case of the orange one, far too mild and like Tang instead of a well rounded zesty orange to stand up to the cherry.
The aftertaste was like I’d chewed on PlayDoh for a while and then swallowed Country Time Lemonade drink mix. However, I know that there are folks who are really looking forward to these. I like the concept but the texture, flavors and general execution just doesn’t fit my style.
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Peter Paul Mounds bar is a classic. It’s a simple moist coconut center covered in dark chocolate. The bar was introduced in 1920 by Peter Paul in New Haven, Connecticut and quickly became one of their best sellers. Though Peter Paul made other bars over the years, the only two that remain are Mounds and the sister milk chocolate and nut bar, Almond Joy. In 1978 Peter Paul merged with Cadbury and then in 1988 Cadbury sold it off to Hershey’s, who continues the production today keeping the Peter Paul name on the product.
The candy is rather like a long version of a chocolate you’d find in a mixed box instead of a candy bar. The format of two pieces in a single package goes back to the 40s and remains today even though the wrappers have changed over the years. It’s one of the few bars that still has the little paperboard tray, and I must say that I appreciate it when it comes to getting the candy out and the fact that mine nearly always look pristine.
The dark chocolate coating is simple, with some slight ripples on the top. The pieces are rounded and have a great feel to them - easy to get out of the package, easy to bite and with two pieces it’s easy to share.
The dark chocolate can’t contain the coconut aroma. It’s a fresh and clean smell. The bite of the chocolate is good, it’s thick enough to hold the coconut and there are never any little leaky spots. But it doesn’t flake off or make a mess. The coconut is soft and chewy, moist and rather sweet at first. The dark chocolate keeps that sweetness from feeling too sticky and adds a woodsy and dark cherry note to the whole thing. The coconut has a long chew and usually tastes very fresh, though often not much more than that (no grassy fresh notes).
It’s a great combination and it endures because of its simplicity as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the few candy bars that I still pick up on top of all the other candy eating that I do. I wish the ingredients were a little “purer” as there are things like hydrolyzed milk protein and PGPR in there that I can’t recall eating as a child.
And of course no discussion of the Mounds bar would be complete without a mention (and inclusion) of the classic jingle “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t.”
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I got an early taste of the new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Minis courtesy of the Sweets & Snacks Expo. As the name explains, they’re an extra miniature version of the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
The selling point in this version is that there’s no wrapper, no fluted paper cup. These morsels are ready to pop right in your mouth. The initial launch will be in King Size packages of 3.1 ounces, but I also expect them to be released as 8 ounce bags for baking. They won’t be hitting the stores until December 2010.
They look exactly like the foil wrapped miniatures, except of course, they’re smaller still. As ratios go, you can expect this to be the most chocolate version of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup you can get. (On the peanut-butter-heavy end of things, the Reese’s Egg is tops.)
Each is exquisitely formed, they all had a precise and consistent shape. As you can tell, they get a little scuffed up rolling around loose in the bag, so no glossy chocolate sheen.
They smell sweet and nutty. The chocolate is cool and melts quickly, with only a light milky cocoa note. The peanut butter center is just a quick pop of roasted peanut butter, crumbly texture and salt. Since they’re so small, a mouthful takes at least two.
These would be ideal for snacking and I could see them as a huge hit in theater boxes. For those who miss the Reese’s Peanut Butter Bites, these might be just the thing (there’s no waxy glaze either). The ratios weren’t quite to my liking but I enjoy the fact that you don’t have to unwrap each individual piece.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.