Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Friday, November 01, 2013
It’s the day after Halloween and a lot of kids are sitting around ranking the candy they took home from Trick-or-Treating. Many come down to three piles - the good chocolate stuff, the tasty sugar candy and then the bad sugar candy. The grown up candy like Necco Wafers often ended up there. You might eat it, but only after everything else is gone.
Stark Assorted Candy Wafers are another one of those crunchy disk candies (now made by Necco since the merger back in 1988) that just don’t come to mind as a favorite candy. But they’re still a valid candy format. What sets the candy wafers apart from other candies are the texture and flavor variety. The wafers are made from a dough of sugar held together with gelatin and vegetable gums which is colored and flavored then stamped out into coins.
There are 19 candy disks in the package. It’s a bit more packaging than Necco Wafers. There’s a little brown paperboard tray that the candies are stacked in, and the whole thing is wrapped in clear cellophane, instead of the glassine wrapped roll of Necco Wafers.
There are six colors: White, Yellow, Pink, Orange, Green, Purple.
The texture is slightly airier and crunchier than Necco Wafers. They’re also not as dense as Sweehearts. The flavors are subtle but the colorings are a little more vibrant than Necco Wafers.
Green is Lime. It’s light and a little ordinary but pleasant.
Overall, the flavor offering is hit and miss for me. I liked wintergreen, banana and orange, but that left me with only half of the flavors as keepers. They’re exceptionally durable, I’m sure they store well and travel well. But they weren’t minty enough to keep them as an Altoids alternative and not flavorful enough for me to call them a treat. I wouldn’t be surprised if these go uneaten at Halloween. But hang onto them for decorating Gingerbread Houses.
Monday, November 05, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Squirrel Nut Zippers were introduced by the Squirrel Brand Company in 1926 as a vanilla caramel with peanuts, part of a line of caramel candies. The name, which sounds more like a collection of nouns than an enticing candy, came from a local alcohol drink called Nut Zipper (this was prohibition).
The Squirrel Brand Company or Massachusetts was sold off to Southern Style Nuts in 1999 and moved to Texas. A mere 5 years later, Necco bought the rights to Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the lesser known Squirrel Caramel Chews, and moved production back to the Boston area. In case you’re wondering, the Squirrel Nut Zippers swing band named themselves after the candy (with permission from Squirrel Brand Company).
The candies are a simple format, a little bite sized chew wrapped in wax paper. They’re sold in bulk bins or pre-packaged bags. I found mine at Rocket Fizz, a small chain of candy & soda pop shops that started in Southern California.
Like Mary Janes (also made by Necco now), a good Squirrel Nut Zipper will be slight soft. Don’t be dismayed if you pick some up and they’re hard. The trick is to put it in your pocket or hold them in your palm for a few minutes or someplace slightly warm just before eating. That way the oils rise slightly to the surface to help the wrapper release from the candy and it’s soft enough to chew easily.
A SNZ is an easy to like candy, it’s quite simple. It’s a vanilla caramel with bits of peanuts in it. The flavor of the caramel is mild and sweet, not as earthy as a Mary Jane, which has molasses in it, and not as toffee like as a Sugar Daddy.
I’m sure I’ve had them before when I was a kid, but they didn’t make much of an impression on me. As an adult, well, there are other candies I’d prefer to have, such as a Mary Jane or some Sugar Babies.
I have no clue about possible allergens, but the ingredients show dairy, soy and peanuts.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
Back in 2009 Necco revamped their 145 year old Necco wafers by going all-natural with the ingredients. This meant not only dropping artificial colors and flavors, but they also discontinued lime since they could not make it naturally.
Well, a scant two years later, the original (or at least pre-2009) version is coming back to store shelves. This little ad to the right is from June 2011, so your store might have them in stock now. (Of course some stores I visit never stopped stocking them, as they have a very long shelf life.)
So it turns out that some candy companies do listen to their customers, so never forget to let them know when you don’t like something ... or when you do.
(Personally, I preferred the All Natural version.)
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Necco Wafers are iconic little disks of crunchy dried sugar and flavoring. They’re the shape and size of a coin but the texture of unfired ceramics. The All Natural Necco Wafers SmartFruits come in little mini rolls. There are 23 rolls in the 11 ounce package and feature four flavors: Raspberry+ Acai, Lemon + Goji, Pomegranate + Goji and Blueberry + Acai.
I bought these a few weeks ago at the 99 Cent Only store. They’re a bit of a puzzle, since it appears they don’t even exist. There’s no mention of them on the Necco company website, I can find only two references on the internet to them: a review in Spanish from 2009 and a notice of the registration of the trademark for “SmartFruits.” I know that the product is not that old because of the trademark and the design of the package cannot be before 2009.
The pieces are muted and in most lighting situations I have trouble telling them apart without sorting them. Straight out of the package the little stack of 9 disks smells like ketchup and raspberry jam.
I wasn’t able to actually tell the flavors apart ... they all had a muted berry smoothie flavor to them. One was definitely lemony and tart but the rest were nondescript. They were not disgusting, but they were pointless.
The package says that there were real fruit antioxidants in here, but the nutritional panel doesn’t even register any vitamin C, which is easily the most palatable vitamin to put in a candy. The ingredients list lots of good things like freeze dried fruit (blueberry, raspberry, acai, goji berry) but it’s well after the sugar on the list, so they can’t make up much of the bulk. One roll is 50 calories. I can think of far better ways to spend your discretionary calories.
Like all Necco Wafers and Conversation Hearts, they contain gelatin and are unsuitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Last week I reviewed the new Haviland Signature Dark Chocolate Thin Mints. As I mentioned then, Haviland makes several other varieties, the Orange and Raspberry. While shopping I also found these Maxfield’s All American Raspberry and Orange Cream Sticks. Since they’re similar prices and similar candies, I thought I’d compare them.
The Haviland are patties and come in a long rectangular box of 21 that weighs 5 ounces. I paid $1.59 for one box and got the second half off. I’m going to hazard that the normal price for Haviland’s is going to be about $1.35. The Maxfield’s are sticks that come in a flat box with 13 sticks and weigh in at 3.15 ounces. I got both boxes for $1 on sale with a coupon. But let’s just say that these are normally about $1.00. So the price per ounce at my “regular” price estimates are 37 cents per ounce for Haviland and 32 cents per ounce for Maxfield’s.
Maxifield’s little book shaped box is just a sleeve. It’s covered in a clear shinkwrapped plastic that seals out moisture. Once that’s off though, the sleeve does a good job of protecting the little tray inside that holds the sticks (because it meets up with the box very well and has wide edges.
The tray holds 13 perfect looking sticks. I wouldn’t say that the flimsy brown tray is great for serving from, except in the most casual company.
I don’t know much about the Maxfield’s All American chocolates. This is the first year I can recall seeing them in stores at Christmas. I saw a lot of boxed chocolates on the shelves most a lower prices than the standard Russell Stover which was in the same aisle. Maxfield’s is based in Utah and is part of Dynamic Confections (which also makes Kencraft candy which creates those fanciful panoramic sugar eggs at Easter).
The Maxfield’s Raspberry Cream Sticks look great. I honestly didn’t expect much for the price and the fact that I hadn’t heard of the company before.
Each is nicely molded, fresh and looked like it just came off of the factory line. Each stick is about 2.75 inches long. They smell lightly of raspberry, like the seedy part of jam or perfume, not so much like the fresh berries.
The chocolate is smoky and pretty mellow, it’s not overly creamy or even sweet. The fondant center is moist and not quite crumbly, it’s softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but on the grainy side like the York. The raspberry flavor is all scent, there’s a light dash of pink food coloring in there.
The flavor was okay, not something I would just sit around eating. They’d be good, I suppose, to add to a plate of cookies or other desserts, but I wouldn’t just eat these without an accompaniment. They’re far too sweet for me without enough of a bonus of texture - the chocolate isn’t good enough and the fondant just lacks an authentic punch.
The Maxfield Orange Cream Sticks were a bit more promising, mostly because I think it’s easier to do a cheap but good orange flavor than it is to pull off rasbperry.
The orange sticks were just as lovely as the raspberry. The orange scent from them was an excellent citrus zest. The fondant was moist and had a gentle chew to it, or I could let it dissolve. The zest wasn’t too strong, not harsh bitter note to it. It overpowered the chocolate completely though, the only thing the chocolate did was give me a break from the throat searing sweetness.
Again, with some very bold coffee or tea, I don’t think I’d mind the sweetness quite as much. Each stick has about 28 calories.
The Haviland patties really do no better in the realm of packaging. The box is nicely designed and the tray certainly does its job of protecting the candy, but I wouldn’t serve from them. It’s also sealed in cellophane.
The patties in my fruity versions were in a little bit better shape than the Peppermint ones I mentioned last week. These had no sign of bloom and even fewer scuffs on the tops from shuffling around in the box. The box boasts that they’re 63% cacao and are all natural.
The Haviland Raspberry Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints box shows that the center is pink, but in actuality they were uncolored. That’s fine with me, I could tell them apart by smell alone. The raspberry scent is similar to the Maxfield’s sticks, like a puree that includes the woodsy notes of the seeds.
The patties are beautifully rippled and are about 1.33 inches around. The break is crisp but the filling is slightly flowing and has a little pull to it. The fondant is smooth with a light confectioners sugar sized grain to it The darker chocolate balances out the sweetness. The raspberry flavor is all scent and no tartness or true berry bits. It was a clean flavor and would go best with tea or perhaps some strong hot chocolate. The ingredients mention a touch of peppermint oil, and at first I thought that was a typo, but it’s true, there is a subtle minty finish.
The Haviland Orange Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints are strong. Even with my seasonal allergies, I could tell that these were orange. Biting into them it’s even more apparent that they’re too orange. Orange oil can be caustic at high concentrations and I think that may be pretty close here. The zest was overpowering, I got a hint of the chocolate texture and at the very least the change in the sweetness, but the orange oil too over everything else.
Each pattie has about 27 calories.
I like the change up of the standard thin mints or mint stick with these. Fondant is certainly a flexible element for a candy and I certainly support different flavors being combined with dark chocolate. In this case the sticks didn’t have the quality of chocolate that they should have and the fruity thin mints didn’t quite have the same balance of elements that the peppermint version had.
All were good values and in a situation where you just want to have something for folks who aren’t that discerning (perhaps drunk on your spiked wassail or have frostbitten tongues from screaming at a northern bowl game).
Monday, October 04, 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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.