Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Go big or go home is kind of a mantra in the snack world. Bigger, bolder, stronger, faster, louder, saltier, fattier, sweeter, higher, longer, brassier, sourer and crunchier all grab market share. They draw our attention because we seek novelty and claiming to be the mostest of something is, well, at least some kind of claim. Things like taste, satisfaction or quality are irrelevant.
So that brings me to the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It looks like an amped up version of the regular package. Same proportions, just bigger.
Hershey’s has been making variations on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for over 50 years. Big Cups, Miniatures ... shapes for different holidays like the Eggs, Trees and Pumpkins. (And of course all the other flavors, chocolate coatings & inclusions.) But this, is obviously different.
The package is 10.5 inches long and 5 inches wide. Inside are two peanut butter cups, each is 8 ounces. So for $9.99 at CVS I was able to buy a pound of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. (Actually, a careful shopper would just buy the 40 ounce “Club Size” bag of miniatures for about $8.99.)
Inside the wrapper is a white paperboard tray that holds the two cups. The cups themselves differ from their un-endowed originals in that they are not contained by a brown fluted paper cup. These are structurally coherent enough to need no containers. (Though they still have the classic fluted sides.)
They’re 4” around on the top and 3” around at the base. As you can already imagine there are some strange proportions at work here when dealing with gigantism. In order to structurally contain the peanut butter I found that they’d fortified the chocolate. I tried biting one but found that the sides and corners were quite thick milk chocolate. Almost a half an inch thick in some places.
It’s really not a product for nibbling on. (Mostly because I simply don’t just munch on pieces of candy that weigh a half a pound. Like giant chocolate Easter rabbits, there’s a sanitary issue.)
This violates one of my primary rules of candy, which is that it requires some sort of tool. In this case it’s a knife to portion it. Most large chocolate bars are scored and can be broken into pieces. There is no other way to eat this other than huge bites ... which pretty much means you’re not sharing or you’re intimate enough with the other folks or so wasted you don’t care.
When sliced though, I have to say it’s rather charming. The triangles are like little slices of pie. Since each cup is 8 ounces, it’s easy to score it into 1 ounce slices ... or just quarter it for hefty 2 ounce pieces. Technically the nutritional panel suggests that a single serving is 1/6th of a cup, but I’ve always found cutting things into sixths harder than quarters/eighths.
The chocolate tastes much sweeter and slightly cool on the tongue than I get from a regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The center peanut butter filling is dry and crumbly with a good salty note and only slightly sweet component.
My issue ultimately that there’s a lot of chocolate surrounding a large bulk of peanut butter. In the end I ate the top & bottom of the slice as well as the dense and grainy peanut butter filling but couldn’t bring myself to eat the super-sweet edge crust of chocolate.
I admit it’s a fun novelty and kind of a no-brainer inexpensive gift for a Reese’s Peanut Butter lover. I see it as a great option for social events, but hard to present as a “real” Reese’s peanut butter cup, since there’s no branding on it. (Maybe a disk to serve it on.)
In the end though it’s no replacement for the tried and true classic. So all it really does in the end is prove that the regular cups are ideal.
From the reports from the dear readers who alerted me to this monstrosity, they seem to be exclusive to CVS ... anyone else see them? (I’m hoping they’ll stick around for Christmas, as I think they’re a fun gag gift that’s actually functional.)
UPDATE December 2010: These are now in much wider distribution. I’ve seen them at 7-11 (for $12.99, I think) plus Target has them along with one pound Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.
Monday, October 12, 2009
At the Walgreen’s I noticed a new set of bars far down on the bottom shelf in the candy aisle. They’re simply called 3 for $1 Buck (which seems redundant, three for one dollar buck bar?). They’re Proudly manufactured in the USA by R.M. Palmer. I picked out one of each and today I thought I’d do a head to head comparison between one of them, called Cookies ‘n’ Creme.
Of course the best known Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar is made by Hershey’s. It was introduced in 1994 and for a long time was made with real cocoa butter so it was a white chocolate product. Now it’s made with a white confection so a good item to do a match up with the Palmer version.
Each bar is a white confection (a mix of vegetable oils, milk & sugar) studded with chocolate cookie bits ... the whole effect is like Oreos in ice cream at room temperature.
Ingredients for Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme (1.55 ounce)
Ingredients for R.M. Palmer 3 for $1 Buck Bar Cookies ‘n’ Creme (1.45 ounce)
The Hershey’s bar is formatted just like the regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. 12 rectangles make it easy to snap & share. The ingredients aren’t quite as good as the pure white chocolate they used to use, but this is still a distinctive bar of decent quality.
It smells quite a bit like ice cream. The melt is rather smooth and cloyingly sweet. The cookie bits are jam packed in there, you can see from the flipside view that they’re little cookie pellets so there aren’t a lot of little crumbs, just real crunch & toasty chocolate flavor. It has a good bit of salt to it (110mg) so it helps the vanilla and chocolate flavors pop.
The Palmer version is a nice long, domed format. It’s a little lighter in color compared to the Hershey’s version. Even though it weights a tenth of an ounce less it has the same number of calories (220) and one more gram of fat (12 g).
It’s immediately sweet, but has a good, cool melt on the tongue. I didn’t get as much in the way of milky flavors from it but a fun fake vanilla that reminded me of taffy. There really weren’t that many cookie bits, which was disappointing, especially since I figured those were the cheapest ingredient in the whole thing.
Overall it was far too sweet, even statistically I can tell: Hershey’s has 19 g of sugars & Palmer has 24 g ... and remember, Palmer’s is smaller.
There’s really no comparison, the Hershey’s is a well rounded white confection with a dark chocolate cookie crunch. The Palmer is just a cheap sweet and fatty imitation. If the Palmer price tag is too much of a temptation, wait until the Hershey’s come on sale.
They’re both Kosher and both made in the USA.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Every once in a while a limited edition comes back. This one, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Lovers Cups, came out in 2005 along with its companion, the Reese’s Chocolate Lovers Cups. I spotted them again in stores a few weeks ago and picked them up on sale at Walgreen’s over the weekend.
The package is more peanutty looking than the traditional bright orange wrappers. It was easy to spot on the shelves as a different variety. Unlike some limited edition varieties that other candy companies make, this is a full sized version of the original - the same 1.5 ounces (.75 ounces per cup). Yes, it’s true that Reese’s Cups have gotten smaller over the years. Brad Kent has the 1.6 ounce wrapper from 1997 and the change made sometime circa 2003 based on Mike’s Candy Wrappers.
I don’t think I tried these the first time they came around, as I think that the regular ratios of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are ideal. When I opened the package I was wondering if there was any chocolate at all ... even though it said Milk Chocolate right at the top.
Once I pulled the brown fluted paper off the cup I understood the construction. There is a milk chocolate container which is filled with the Reese’s peanut butter center and that’s capped with a peanut butter candy coating.
The cup has a soft bite, slightly crumbly. It’s definitely all about the peanut butter. The chocolate base provides a little cool & creamy sweetness but very little in the way of cocoa notes. The dry and salty peanut butter center has that inimitable texture and roasted peanut flavor. I found it to be much saltier, so I looked around for sodium content for the original and found that has 130 mg per package and this limited edition version has 170 mg. (Just a note, I think everything is salty these days ... my otherwise healthy diet is rather low in sodium.) However, it does have 6 grams of protein versus 4 grams in the classic. More peanut butter means more protein and actual less fat & fewer calories ... a whole 10 fewer calories.
I enjoyed these, and certainly had no trouble finishing the package. But given the choice I’m either going to go for the regular cups or the minis (I don’t think I’m going to touch the once perfect eggs now that they’ve gone mockolate).
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Earlier this year Hershey’s provided me with a peek at some new products. I’ve been hanging onto the new Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway until it was closer to arriving on store shelves.
This addition to the Hershey’s line will set it apart from many other chocolate morsels such as the Dove line because instead of going super dark, they went all white.
The good news is that Hershey’s is using real white chocolate made with cocoa butter for their meltaway. Though it’s not a real gourmet product it’s still an excellent option for white chocolate lovers for a less-expensive treat. The ingredients list white chocolate as the first ingredient (sugar, cocoa butter, nonfat milk, milk, lactose, milk fat, soy lecithin, tocopherols, vanillin & salt). The meltaway center is made with a mix of the white chocolate and palm kernel oil. As you can imagine the saturated fat content is through the roof, with 6 pieces completing 45% of your daily recommended allowance of saturated fat but also 10% of your calcium.
The pieces are a creamy pale color with a little squiggle design across the rounded dome of the square. The smell sweet and milky and pretty much taste the same. The salt give them a little pop that makes the vanilla flavors come out more strongly than I would have expected. It’s like a vanilla pudding. A little bland but also a bit unchallenging in comforting way.
The difference between the white chocolate shell and the meltaway filling is rather marginal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It felt like a piece of soft and creamy, sweet fat.
I liked the packaging - I thought the light blue, creamy white and gold were elegant and evocative of the product itself. I have a bit of trouble eating too many, so added to a mix of other levels of chocolate would be nicer. My only hesitation with them is that the Bliss line seems a bit expensive (regular price $4.99) for what you get. I’d prefer something without palm oil and with real vanilla. My go to white chocolate is still Green & Black’s.
Monday, September 21, 2009
There’s been a bit of chatter about Cadbury over the past few months. First, Cadbury is going Fair Trade with their most popular product, the Dairy Milk bar. Since the bar is the United Kingdom’s #1 selling bar with $852 million in sales buying only fair trade cocoa will make a huge difference for cocoa growing regions. (It’s also #1 in Australia and India.)
The second bit of news is that Kraft, the global food powerhouse that owns not only a large corner of the cheese food world but also Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate and Cote d’Or, made a bid for Cadbury.
Cadbury has chocolate factories all over the world and each one has slightly different local takes on the product. Here in the United States the Cadbury Dairy Milk products aren’t even made by Cadbury, they’re made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. (But it’s not like Hershey’s even makes it from scratch, the major raw material of the chocolate crumb - a mixture of dried milk and chocolate - is shipped to Hershey, Pennsylvania to be combined on site with sugar and other ingredients to form the end product.)
I found a nice single serve block of Cadbury Dairy Milk from the UK. It was in marvelous condition and looked like it had been stored well at the India Sweets & Spices where I shop - it’s kept at the end of the produce section in the refrigerated area - so it’s climate controlled.
I also picked up a few of the super cute Dairy Milk Buttons, which are little chocolate disks.
For the American version I found a nice back of Dairy Milk Miniatures from Hershey’s Signatures line.
It’s apparent when putting them side by side like this that the American made (on the left) is darker than the UK made one (on the right). What I liked about these two products is that they single pieces of each were similar shapes & thickness.
Both have a nice sheen and are well molded.
I liked the deeply segmented bar that broke easily into pieces. Each is beveled, so it’s easy to snap off and easy to bite.
The bar smells sweet and rather cheesy, like cottage cheese or maybe yogurt. The cocoa notes are sweet, more like chocolate cake than cocoa. In fact, but those together and the closest I can get is this smells like a rich chocolate cheesecake.
The melt is thick and sticky; it’s sweet at first but then gives way to some deep toffee and caramel sugar notes. Then it gets sweet again ... a bit too sweet for me. After two pieces my throat was burning and I had to drink some water and eat some plain crackers.
The melt is consistent. Quite smooth but not silky or buttery. It didn’t feel fatty, it felt fudgy - like the sugar wasn’t quite integrated with the cocoa.
The dairy notes were decent, a little thick in the back of my throat but not as powdery tasting as some other European style milk chocolates.
Overall I would have preferred a much smoother & more chocolatey punch. However, that’s not what the Dairy Milk bar is about, it’s about the milk component as much as the chocolate, since there are near equal proportions. Milk solids clock in at 23% and cocoa solids are 20%. There are also about 5% vegetable fats in there taking the place of cocoa butter.
This is why the front of a Dairy Milk bar doesn’t even say chocolate - they’d have to put the vegetable statement on the front along with it by their current labeling standards.
I wanted to be as thorough as I could, so I also tasted a package of Dairy Milk Buttons which are kind of like Hershey’s Kisses in that they’re little nibbles of chocolate.
They’re about the diameter as pennies (though some were dime or nickel sized). The bottom has a little embossed Cadbury logo.
Each little piece is rather thin, so melts quickly on the tongue. They release the flavors quicker and taste more milky to me. There’s also a slight cool effect on the tongue.
I liked them, and the little shapes are probably very easy to combine with other items like nuts, popcorn or candies for a more varied mix of textures.
The American has a sweet, slightly tangy milk scent with a hint of toasted cocoa. The bit is soft but has a good snap to it. The melt is a bit on the sticky side but not overly sweet.
It has a bit of a fudgy flavor and texture, though much creamier. I wouldn’t go so far to call it silky, in fact parts of it were downright gritty. It had a good toasted & smoked taste to it, much darker in taste than the traditional Hershey’s or Mars.
The overt flavors are definitely of the dairy products, not of the chocolate.
It is Kosher ... the UK bar has no Kosher mark.
Okay, so they’re similar but not quite the same. I did some investigating on the labels:
First, it’s the ingredients.
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Bournville, UK
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Hershey, USA
Since the portions & packages were so different, I did a little Excel magic on them and standardized it to compare:
From what I can tell, there is a just a smidge less fat in the American but slightly more sugar ... now these are tiny, tiny amounts. Not enough, as far as I know, to account for the color difference. Also, the UK labels are more precise - American standards allow rounding, UK measures in tenths.
I have no preference, except to say that I don’t care much for plain Dairy Milk. I prefer it with nuts in it and they do have an ample variety of bars that have nuts. It’s just too sweet and doesn’t have enough of a cocoa punch. I’ve become spoiled by the high cocoa content of products like Scharffen Berger and Amano when it comes to just eating by the piece.
For those in the United States, the British made bars can be found at import shops and places like Cost Plus World Market. For those in the UK, I’m sure it’s near impossible and pointless to get the American made stuff.
So it all comes down to personal preference. There are lots of folks who prefer the American made because it’s what they’ve grown up on. It’s a little bit firmer because of the all-cocoa-butter content but not quite as milky as the classic British made bars. Have you had both? Which do you prefer?
Thursday, July 30, 2009
It was launched barely more than a year ago with little promotion to support it, no website (just a page on the Starbucks site) and a baffling retail plan where it was sold everywhere except Starbucks.
The line included coffee & tea infused chocolate bars, tasting squares and truffles. The packaging echoed Starbucks strong image, was all natural and made no direct mention of Hershey’s as the manufacturer. For Christmas special flavors were created that echoed the seasonal coffee drinks. However, the new brand was a tad on the expensive side and entered the mass-manufactured upscale chocolate market just terms like staycation entered the vernacular.
So last week as Hershey’s announced huge second quarter profits, it also formally announced that they were discontinuing the Starbucks Chocolate line.
CNN Money summed it up pretty well:
Added to that happy news about their profits (which were the result of cutting manufacturing costs by closing factories in the US, moving to a Mexican facility, raising prices and using cheaper ingredients), Hershey’s also formalized the discontinuation of Cacao Reserve, Hershey’s own branded high end chocolate line. (Hershey’s also closed Joseph Schmidt, a chocolatier line based out of San Francisco earlier this year and moved all production for Scharffen Berger to Illinois.)
The Caramel Macchiato Truffles come in a nicely packaged pair at the ghastly price of $1.39 at the drug store. Honestly, if this sort of truffle pair was available at an actual Starbucks to accompany my plain coffee, I might have gone for it more regularly. With the “startling news” that coffee drinks contain huge amounts of calories which cause cancer, a simple cup of coffee with cream and two truffles would actually be a smaller indulgence than an actual Caramel Macchiato.
I’ve never had a Macchiato (I’ve never actually had anything fancier than a latte or mocha in all my years), so I can’t comment on how well it mimics the frothy creation described thusly by Starbucks:
The milk chocolate shell is nicely molded. It holds a fudgy, smooth cream that tastes a bit like a mocha cheesecake. Sweet, a little tangy with a light coffee taste and maybe, just maybe a hint of toffee (caramel).
It was pretty sweet but with coffee it works ... though the actual coffee overpowers the not-much-coffee-taste.
In the end, I don’t think it was bad timing that sunk this line. I think it was bad merchandising - it should have been available at actual Starbucks. And a year is far too little to decide the success of a new line of chocolate. My view is that Hershey’s is uninterested in building brand loyalty through quality.
The only thing that makes sense about this is the statement on the side of the box:
Watching Cadbury & Mars move more and more towards ethically traded and sustainably grown & harvested cacao, I’m not seeing much for Hershey’s except from their Daboga arm. I can see where this Starbucks line is just a liability for profits. Hershey’s has shown itself to be more concerned with profits (and high profits, not just tidy ones) than the quality of its products and place within the economies it locates itself.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The new Hershey’s Special Dark with Almonds joins Hershey’s standard Special Dark bar as the companion with nuts.
Hershey’s dark chocolate isn’t daringly dark, it’s just 45% cacao content, which these days isn’t even as chocolatey as some milk chocolates. It’s nice to finally have the option of a dark bar with almonds at the convenience mart or drug store ... though it’s a little late to enter the game as Dove beat them there and even Lindt, Ritter and Ghirardelli are available pretty widely now.
The bar is lovely, it’s molded just like the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar.
It’s not a huge bar, but still a nice portion, clocking in at 1.45 ounces and 190 calories if you’re counting.
Ingredients: Sugar, chocolate, almonds (roasted in cocoa butter and/or sunflower oil), cocoa butter, cocoa processed with alkali, milkfat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR, vanillin and milk.
My first reaction is that it’s sweet. My second reaction is that it tastes like cocoa. The almonds have a good crunch and were fresh. Because of the almonds, for the most part I chewed the bar instead of letting it just melt on my tongue. But for the purposes of this review I found some pieces without almonds just for tasting the chocolate.
It’s sugary and a bit grainy, there’s a distinct chalkiness that isn’t that “this is really dark chocolate dryness” instead it’s more like the chocolate’s not fully combined with the sugar. The cocoa butter isn’t really supporting the chocolate, it’s standing next to it so everything just kind of falls apart.
It’s not terrible, but it’s like eating a bunch of chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are meant to stand up to baking and are almost always used in combination with other elements. Here the almonds just can’t cover up the lackluster flavors & texture.
If you’re desperate for a non-milk chocolate bar (that actually has milk products in it) and nothing else is around, this is certainly more palatable than the straight Special Dark. I found it filling, but not satisfying.
Monday, June 29, 2009
This new product for the Nuggets line is called Double Chocolate Nuggets:
Hershey’s gives you the best of both worlds with Double Chocolate Nuggets. It’s the perfect combination of Hershey’s Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate and Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, giving you a delicious taste experience.
I’ve mentioned before that I actually like the nugget format. I like a deep bite, especially for a layered product or one that has inclusions (which is why I thought those Cookies ‘n’ Mint Nuggets were so great).
These little blocks have a distinct scent - it’s both the sweet cocoa smell of the Special Dark and the tangy milk chocolate that made Hershey’s famous.
Biting into it right side up I got the slightly chalky taste of the Special Dark first, which has a dry and mellow chocolate bite to it but a thin & watery melt. Then the “extra creamy” milky chocolate, which has a yogurty dairy flavor that give it more of a fudge taste than a deep milk chocolate note. (I really don’t get how this can be considered extra creamy.)
The effect of it all isn’t good nor bad, it just is. I can’t say that I’ve longed for a combination product before, so it’s not like I was anticipating this.
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