Monday, March 26, 2012
I picked up one of the odder Easter offerings over the weekend at KMart: Mallow Pals Strawberry Squeezable Marshmallow from a company called Hilco. I’ve seen these before, I think they showed up a year or two ago, squeezed confections have been around for a few years now. (Though I also remember a bubble gum that came in a tube back in the early 1980s as well.)
The tube is themed for Easter, in a bright pink and completely shaped like a perched bunny rabbit.
The package is some sort of mylar, it’s flexible and has a foil-like quality to it. It doesn’t hold much, there’s 1.2 ounces and I paid a dollar for it on sale. But marshmallows are mostly air anyway.
The package has a little flat plastic bottom that allows it to stand up (it stands best if it leans against something though). There’s a plastic flip top.
The ingredients are interesting and reveal that this isn’t what I consider a true marshmallow.
Modern marshmallows are made with gelatin. The protein in gelatin will stabilize whipped sugar syrup to hold the airy foam. Egg whites also perform the same in fresh goods, but don’t usually do as well when exposed to air. But still, they’re found quite often in treats, such as the Schokokuss or Mohrenkopf that’s found in the German speaking parts of Europe. The upshot of all of this is that this product is good for vegetarians who have to avoid traditional marshmallow products. (It’s not Kosher though. There are no statements about allergens on the package. It’s made in China.)
The goo has that soft and sweet smell of cotton candy. It squeezes out pretty easily. It’s soft and gooey and slumps over instead of forming bouncy peaks like marshmallow does. It’s pretty sticky as well. The texture is smooth, though there are a few sugary grains in there from time to time.
The strawberry flavor is mild and floral with no tartness and a weird bitter aftertaste that I can only assume is contributed by the artificial coloring. It dissolves quickly.
It’s weird stuff. It’s hard to imagine eating it right out of the pouch, but if I were a kid, I probably would. It’s sticky and can easily get messy. The pouch is easy to grasp, so it’s easy to dispense, though not necessarily easy to control like a pastry bag. It’s very low in calories though and one tube, though it’s supposed to be a serving, could probably be stretched to two if you were looking to limit calories.
It seems like it would be more fun to use as a frothy frosting item to ice cream, cookies, crackers, fruit or maybe even on top of hot chocolate. Sucking it right out of the tube seems a little wrong.
It comes in a couple of other flavors, I saw Green Apple on the shelves and I’ve also seen it listed online in Blue Raspberry.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Divine Chocolate makes Fair Trade certified chocolate using cocoa from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. For the most part in the United States we just get their bars, but for the past two or three years, I’ve seen some of their holiday items at stores like Whole Foods.
The Divine Milk Chocolate Praline Mini Eggs are described as milk chocolate eggs with hazelnut praline filling. The upright box comes in the palest pearl blue color with some very light icons in the background in the same style as their bars. The box only holds 3.5 ounces, which is about 8 foil wrapped praline filled eggs. At Whole Foods they cost $4.49 per package.
These remind me an awful lot of the fair trade Tony’s Chocolonely Easter Eggs available in Europe. So much that I’m wondering if there’s a common production facility in common.
The eggs are 1.5 inches long and about an inch at the widest. They come in two different foil colors: gold and pale blue. Inside the foil the eggs have an interesting shell pattern that reminds me of crocodile.
Each egg is about 13 grams or .46 ounces, so they’re quite a little morsel. The suggested serving is three eggs and I calculated that they’re about 70 calories each, which means 153 calories per ounce ... a rather fatty little chocolate egg. But there is one gram of protein per egg. The ingredients say that the chocolate is 27% cocoa solids and 20% milk solids. Also, the entire candy is 19% hazelnuts. The chocolate is fair trade certified, but that only makes up 67% of the ingredients.
The milk chocolate shell is filled with a thick and dense milk chocolately hazelnut cream. They smell deeply toasty and nutty. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky and tastes pretty much the same as the filling. It’s soft and rib-sticking with a good mouthfeel and melt. It’s a little on the fudgy side, but barely grainy (the particles from the hazelnut). They’re really filling and though very sweet, it’s not to the point that it burns my throat.
Many fair trade sweets are more for adults, this one would definitely please children. It’s attractive, filling and well made. The price is a bit dear, but that’s what happens when you pay everyone involved a decent wage.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Werther’s Original is known best for its smooth hard caramel candies but they’ve recently ventured into the world of chocolate. Werther’s is made by Storck, a Germany candy brand that also makes Toffifay, Merci Chocolate, Mamba chews and Riesen caramels. It always seemed odd to me that their chocolate brand was under the Werther’s label instead of the Merci one, but perhaps they went with the one with the best brand recognition.
Werther’s Original Caramel Milk Chocolates feature the familiar amber yellow and brown branding of the Werther’s caramels. The bars come in a familiar style of upright, flat bar package. They’re 3.5 ounces and I found them at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck a piece. What was even better though was the the package once I opened it up. There were four little individually wrapped bars inside the easily re-closeable sleeve.
The little bars are about 25 grams each (.88 ounces) and the nutrition facts suggest that two are a serving, but I found one sufficient.
There were three varieties on sale at the store, so I bought all of them. Though the smart little bars are color coded, they’re not actually marked with the name of the variety on them. I found the purple and magenta confusing when not placed side by side.
I tried Werther’s Original CaraMelts before a few years ago, which is some sort of caramel flavored white confection and found it was not suited to my tastes, a little too fatty without much flavor. I was hoping this would have a little more depth.
The little bar is a ripple of that cream confection and a milk chocolate.
The melt is quite nice, extremely smooth and though sweet, it’s not sticky or too thick. The milk and dairy notes are clean, like fresh butter not powdered milk. The cocoa notes are rather faint overall, kind of a malty and toffee note to it, but not much more than that.
The Werther’s Original Dark Cream Caramel Chocolates in bar form are similar to another version that were introduced a couple of years ago called Werther’s Original Dark Cream Chocolates which were sold in bags and individually wrapped and shaped like the Werther’s Original hard caramels.
The difference between the two products, as far as I can tell, is shape and price.
When they named it Dark Cream, they really meant the cream part. The fat content on this particular bar is through the roof, at 164 calories per ounce with 79 of those fat calories. The second ingredient on the list after milk chocolate (I know, what makes it dark chocolate cream if it’s made with milk chocolate?) is cream powder then whole milk powder. You’d better like dairy.
The Dark Dream looked odd, the color was not quite appetizing. I can only describe it as a faded or dead looking brown, instead of a lively and rich red-brown like many chocolate bars are.
Even though I complained that there was a lot of milk chocolate in this bar, and a lot of milk, it still had a deeper cocoa flavor to it and was certainly less sweet than the Milk Cream version. The melt is very smooth and has a good flavor balance between the actual cream flavors and the toasty, woodsy cocoa notes.
The back of the package says Enjoy four individually wrapped bars of European Milk chocolate with pieces of crispy Werther’s Original Toffee.
The ingredients are much simpler as well, just real milk chocolate with lots of extra dairy fats and some toffee chips made with real butter.
The bar has the same faintly off color for the milk chocolate. I can only assume that the reason for that is because it’s diluted by all that extra milk and dairy in it.
The toffee chips are well distributed and at a good ratio to provide a lot of texture and flavor. The milk chocolate is smooth and buttery though again, not very chocolatey. The toffee chips have a good balance of crisp texture, easy crunch, salt and burnt sugar notes.
Overall the price was good for this set of bars, and I enjoyed the portion control that’s usually lacking in these large tablet bars. But the chocolate is weird, it’s too much dairy fat and not enough cocoa butter. I can see the appeal for some folks, especially those who like the mouthfeel of super-slick chocolate like Dove. But I want more chocolate punch in my chocolate.
The allergen list on these was long, pretty much the only thing it doesn’t contain and isn’t co-processed with is shellfish.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Lately as the artisanal, slow and local food movement has taken hold I’ve been seeing more wholesome candy bars coming to the market. It’s an interesting idea, to take the fantastic flavor and texture combinations made famous and delicious by the mass-manufacture candy companies and tweak them with better ingredients.
But what actually makes a candy bar great. After you get past the concept and the basics of the ratios, what sets a good candy bar apart from a great candy bar? Is it the quality of the ingredients? The freshness? Can the ethical repercussions of your purchase effect your enjoyment?
When I found out that Justin Gold of Justin’s Nut Butter was releasing a version of the classic Snickers bar, I figured if anyone was going to top Mars, it might be a guy who knew and loved peanuts. The new line of bars are called, simply, Milk Chocolate Peanut, Dark Chocolate Peanut and Milk Chocolate Almond.
The press release said “Justin’s All-Natural Candy Bars contain 25% less sugar, 50% more protein and 100% more fiber than the leading conventional candy bar, Snickers.” So I was prompted to take a look at what a Snickers actually had in it and what I’d get out of it nutritionally.
Snickers Stats: 2.07 ounces - 57 grams - 280 calories 130 calories from fat
Justin’s All Natural Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar Stats: 2 ounces - 57 grams - 270 calories - 130 calories from fat
So the ingredient list may look longer on Justin’s, but that’s just because they have to qualify so many of those items with organic. A Snickers bar isn’t really made with horrible things (no high fructose corn sweetener, no palm oil, real milk products and real milk chocolate). But a big selling point is that Justin’s attempts to use sustainable ingredients. But don’t go in thinking that there are fewer calories in Justin’s, just because there’s more protein and fiber, the calories are pretty darn close and the fat is identical.
The bars look great. The wrapper’s not bad either; it doesn’t look like some sort of dog-eared hippie candy bar. So no compromises there. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but the whole bar is about the peanuts and peanut butter. The caramel is chewy and has a nice pull to it, the nougat tastes like roasted peanut butter with a little note of salt. I was missing the crunch of big peanuts though. There were some, but not quite the same thing as a Snickers, which seems to have more distinction between the layers.
Still, a very satisfying experience. Sweet, crunchy, salty and toasty with a light creamy chocolate finish. Is it better than a Snickers? It’s hard to say, I’ve been raised on the ratios of the Snickers (just like I had the same problem with Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups not quite arriving at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup experience).
The package looks remarkably like the Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar, except the small print that says Dark Chocolate and the coloring of the illustration of the bar is a little darker. If I had one piece of advice about this bar it would be to make it easier to tell them apart.
The dark chocolate that Justin’s uses is quite dark, though has a smooth buttery melt and bitter, slightly astringent finish. Part of the time I actually got a green olive note from it. The peanut and caramel and nougat ratios are otherwise the same but seem a bit brighter by the bitter chocolate counterpoint. Of the two bars, I actually preferred the Milk Chocolate, which is a bit unusual for me. The dark chocolate is just too pronounced.
It features an almond butter nougat, caramel with almonds all covered in milk chocolate. The bar, like the others, is two ounces.
All of the bars are gluten free but contain eggs, soy, dairy and either peanuts or almonds plus may have traces of other nuts.
My experience with the Snickers Almond didn’t prepare me for this bar, but it’s quite different. It tastes like almonds. The roasted flavors of almonds, not amaretto, are throughout the bar. The nougat is lightly salted and chewy as is the caramel. The nougat has fantastic toasted flavors of almonds and the caramel holds the whole almonds and almond pieces. So there’s a great deal of crunch here along with the smoother chewy textures. The milk chocolate is silky smooth, sweet and has a strong powdered dairy note to it that ties the whole thing in a bow. Of the three, this one tastes like it beats the original in texture and flavor.
The only production note I had for all of the bars was that they had voids in them. Not huge, but enough in each one that I had to wonder about what might cause them during production and how they could avoid it. The other small issue I saw was that the bottom chocolate coating was thin. On the almond bar it was thin enough that I could see the nougat through it. This can let the nougat dry out and of course messes with the flavor ratios.
On the whole, these are great bars. They don’t taste like there’s a single compromise in there. Though the press release boasted about the improved nutrition, I’d say an extra gram of protein is not why you’d choose these bars. The bars are priced at about twice what you’d pay for Snickers. But for that you get ethically sourced, organic chocolate and other organic ingredients. Some of the other hand made bars are five times the price, so when compared to that, I was pleased. The preference between them without that would come down to personal taste. I think the Snickers are more consistent, but the Justin’s bars are new and I’ve only eaten four (two of the Milk Chocolate Peanut) plus the samples I had at the ExpoWest trade show so all were extremely fresh.
Update 9/17/2012: Either I misread something earlier this year or something change, but the Justin’s Candy Bars do not use fair-trade certified chocolate. The Peanut Butter Cups in both Dark and Milk do, but the Candy Bars do not at this time. I have edited the above review to reflect that information. I apologize if that was confusing to anyone in the interim (but please, always read the packages and/or websites of the candy companies, as they are more likely to have up-to-date information).
Friday, March 16, 2012
I found the Russell Stover Big Bite Pecan Delight Egg at Walgreen’s along with the other super-sized Easter classic, the Coconut Cream in the shape of a Big Bunny.
Pecans and Caramel covered in Milk Chocolate
Ah, a pecan turtle. What a fabulous candy. The roasted, maple flavors of pecans with their oily crunch go so well with the burnt sugar, sweet chewiness of caramel with it all encapsulated in creamy milk chocolate.
I’ve reviewed a few different versions of these in the past. The first one I tried was the Organic Pecan Delight, which were sold individually wrapped and bagged. They were good, but lacked a lot of pecans. The second one I tried was the traditional Easter favorite, the Pecan Delight Egg ... well, that one was even more parsimonious with the pecans. Then most recently I tried the non-organic version of the Pecan Delight and was similarly underwhelmed.
So, would scaling up make a difference?
They weren’t kidding about it being a big bite. It’s two ounces, so of course it’s big, but that’s the same size as a Snickers bar. It’s packed with 290 calories as well. What it’s not packed with is pecans. Those little lumps on the outside ... those are the pecan pieces. That’s it. No hidden nuts inside the caramel center.
I can sit around being disappointed that there aren’t more pecans in this. (I can also call it false advertising.) But the reality is that it’s still a good piece of candy if you adjust expectations. The milk chocolate is passable - it’s sweet and milky and though a bit fudgy and grainy, it still has a pleasant melt and mouthfeel. The caramel center is salty and though sweet, not overly cloying or syrupy. The caramel is smooth, without the slightest bit of grain. It’s pretty gooey, but not chewy. The small bits of pecans gave it a roasted nutty flavor, but not much texture overall.
Would this have been better with more pecans? Absolutely. Would it have cost a dollar? No, not possible. It was a bad year for pecans, the price went way up. The solution to this is for Russell Stover to not offer this candy at this price point, or to adjust our expectations by not saying that it’s the Pecan Delight.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Easter is the time of cream eggs. There are so many different versions and Russell Stover makes about half of them. From caramel and peanut butter to raspberry whip and strawberry cream, they go for variety. This year their newest introduction is not another egg, but a reshaping of one of their classic eggs into a different format. Behold the Russell Stover Big Bunny Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cream.
The package design is nice, I liked it quite a bit, with its bold illustration style. Though the wrapper is a bit flimsy, it seems to do a good job of protecting the contents. It says that it’s made with 100% real chocolate, which is great news and that it’s made proudly in America. They were on sale for $1.00, which is a pretty good deal for a 2.25 ounce candy bar these days.
The bunny is large, just as the package promised. It’s a little over 5 inches tall (though one of my ears was a bit broken off because I fumbled with it when I took it out of the wrapper).
The shape is only vaguely rabbit. I’m not even sure if it’s just a giant rabbit head or supposed to be a whole rabbit body. It’s enrobed though, which is my favorite kind of chocolate coating. If you’ve ever seen a chocolate enrober, you’ll understand part of my fascination with the technique. A center is pushed through a curtain of melted chocolate, which coats it and hardens as it moves along a conveyer that cools it. (Watch it here, it’s kind of mesmerizing.)
The chocolate is thick enough to create a bit of crunchy break when I bit into it. Because of the irregular shape of the rabbit, it also meant that the ratio of chocolate to coconut would change. The center was thick and had a large density of coconut cream. The cream is light and airy with a smooth sugary grain to it and not too much coconut. The coconut is in very small pieces, less like a Mounds or Almond Joy. There’s even a light hint of salt in there.
It’s a nice product, easier to eat, oddly enough, than the egg version that’s a classic. However, it’s quite large. The package says that it’s one portion, which is 280 calories. I’d prefer to consume it in two or three sittings, as I did. The package was pretty easy to open and fold over and tape closed between those portions.
It’s a good addition to the Russell Stover line of Easter goodies. It’s not overwhelming as a huge chocolate rabbit, but a little more precious than the chocolate covered coconut cream egg.
Though it’s made with dark chocolate, there’s plenty of dairy in there and may contain traces of nuts.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Schluckwerder Fancy Eggs - Fine Marzipan are featured at Cost Plus World Market every year around Easter. It’s a very simple, almost mousy looking package. A gold plastic tray with ten sections holds pastel candy coated marzipan eggs.
I’ve been stalking these eggs for years. I’ve even taken photos of them in the store, hoping to go back after Easter when they’re on sale. The only problem with that plan is that there’s never any left after the holiday for discounting. They’re a little on the pricey side, $3.99 for a package weighing only 5.29 ounces from a German brand I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, I have a lot of confidence in German marzipan, now that I’ve visited a few factories in Germany and tasted quite a variety over the years. Germany knows what it’s doing when they combine sugar and almonds.
Each egg is about a half an ounce, so two is a good and filling portion. The center is pure marzipan with a thin chocolate coating then a sugared candy shell. They use all natural colorings, however, they do also use carmine, so the product is off the table for vegetarians who draw the line there. (There’s also milk in there, so it’s a no for vegans.)
The eggs vary a bit in size and shape. Some were spherical and about 1.25 inches in diameter and the more ovoid ones were about 1.5 inches long.
Even though they’re kind of big, they’re easier to bite than something like a Malted Milk Egg or Marshmallow Hiding Egg. They have a slightly floral scent, nothing really overt, just a clean sort of orange blossom or fig perfume. The chocolate is thick enough to provide quite a bit of flavor. It’s not very dark but has a well rounded woodsy cocoa flavor and a smooth, silky melt. The center is soft and quite moist, which is nice because I don’t care for the chalky and tough marzipan.
The marzipan is a little doughy but not overly sweet. There’s a faint bit of amaretto flavor, but mostly it’s a clean rosewater and nutty almond flavor. They’re hearty without being sticky sweet. They’re easy to eat, though I usually ate mine in two bites instead of popping the whole thing in my mouth at once.
I’m glad I took the plunge and tried these. They’re definitely worth full price, especially if it’s something you had as a kid or in your travels. When you come down to it, the price works out to about 1.33 per ounce, which is far more reasonable than Caffarel. And I think I prefer this marzipan to the Caffarel version. I’ll still keep an eye out for them on after-Easter clearance.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Sugar Daddy was introduced in 1925 but originally called “Papa Sucker”, it took on the name Sugar Daddy in 1932. The pop is a simple, but large caramel slab on a stick.
Like many candies over 50 years old, this one has a long history of changing hands. It was created by the James O. Welch Company, which also made fudge and later invented Pom Poms, Sugar Babies and Junior Mints. Later in 1963 Welch was sold to Nabisco. Nabisco continued making the line of Sugar Daddies, Sugar Mamas and Sugar Babies. Nabisco sold their candy lines to Warner-Lambert (known mostly for drugs) in 1988 and then Tootsie acquired them in 1992. The package design changed little over the years. Here’s a wrapper from the 50s and a later one from the 70s when it was made by Nabisco. The only functional difference is that the top end is sealed now, instead of folded.
The caramel pop is very simple. Perhaps my memory is hazy or idealizes the candy of my youth, I remember Sugar Daddy as a very dark, glossy and smooth caramel bar on a stick. While the pair that I bought were in good condition (no sign that they’d melted & reformed or were sticky and crystallized around the edges), they just weren’t as awesome as I recall.
The ingredients look functionally the same as ever: Corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, dry whole milk, whey, natural and artificial flavors, salt, soya lecithin.
The slab is sturdy and thick. It’s pliable but not exactly chewy. I found it possible to bite some off, but not without a lot of bending and wiggling to cause some sort of equivalent of metal fatigue.
The dissolve is smooth and the flavor is creamy with a distinct caramelized sugar flavor with a pleasant buttery note. I prefer the Sugar Babies, I feel like the centers have a little bit more pronounced burnt sugar flavor that’s balanced with the sugary shell. The Sugar Daddy is just difficult to eat without making a mess, though I think the slightly smaller pop would be better for those who aren’t tempted to chew on it, because it fits better in the mouth.
I’m glad this around for a newer generation. I credit Tootsie taking over this line with the very popular invention of the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pop.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.