Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the seasonal imported candies I looked forward to as a kid were Perugina Baci. They were one of my earliest recollections of hazelnut candies. It’s a simple construction, a chocolate cream filling with crushed hazelnuts, topped with a whole hazelnut and then dipped in dark chocolate.
They’ve been made since 1922 and were very successful from the start. The hook with Baci though isn’t just the hazelnut textures and chocolate, it’s the packaging. Each little chocolate is individually wrapped, and inside the wrapper is a glassine paper that has quotes about love, now in multiple languages.
I ate plenty of these as a kid. They used to come in larger boxes, I think they had either three or four chocolates in them. Now they’re only available in this duo box or in the larger gift size versions (which change depending on the season). They were first introduced to American consumers in 1939 when Perugina opened their own shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1939. But then they went away. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 and the brand was less emphasized. Perugina concentrated their sales efforts on Italy and Europe. Baci weren’t as easy to find, though still turned up in Italian delis and import shops. When internet sales came along, it was a bit easier, but still, the impulse of buying a little tube of Perugina Baci was long gone.
That supposed to change now, as Nestle has an agreement with Colavita olive oil (not a Nestle product) to handle imports for Baci and other Perugina products. They made a big splash at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, so perhaps they’ll be easier to find now.
The pieces are about a half an ounce each and have about 75 calories in them. It’s a rich mix of dark chocolate on the outside, a filling of hazelnut paste and cream along with crushed hazelnuts. Then there’s a large, whole hazelnut on top.
The ingredients list for a complicated candy like this is very short: sugar, hazelnuts, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, milk, milkfat, soy lecithin and vanillin.
Baci are only for chocolate eaters who love hazelnuts. There’s a lot of hazelnut in there. The filling is jam packed with crushed hazelnuts (the chocolate was invented to make use of excess crushed nuts in the chocolate factory) but the real appeal here is the fantastic whole hazelnut on top.
They smell sweet and nutty. Bite is easy, the center is soft enough to give easily, but not sticky or syrupy. It all melts well together, with a lot of woodsy and roasted nut flavors. Personally, I like biting off the bottom and consuming that first, leaving only the chocolate covered whole hazelnut at the end.
One is satisfying, two is downright indulgent. I think a box of three would be the perfect serving and put a fourth in to at least create the illusion of sharing.
While Caffarel are still my favorite Italian hazelnut chocolates, I do love Baci and I’m glad they’re going to be more available.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate on the package or Perugina Italian website. (The US website hasn’t launched fully yet.) The product contains hazelnuts and possibly traces of other tree nuts, plus soy and dairy. There is no statement about gluten on the package.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Wonka has a strong tradition of sugar candies, as the brand originated with Sunline, makers of SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and Fun Dip (Lik-M-Aid). One of their legacy candies is Laffy Taffy. It’s just fruity taffy with the added bonus of a joke or two on the wrapper.
Back when I was a kid Laffy Taffy was known as Tangy Taffy and was sold in large flat bars similar to Jolly Rancher Stix (well, bigger than that). They came in intense and artificial flavors like Green Apple, Watermelon and Banana. After the Nestle takeover of Wonka they made some changes, like dumping Wacky Wafers (photo) and changing Tangy Taffy to Laffy Taffy.
Laffy Taffy still comes in bars, but the most common product I see are these little two inch long pieces. Each piece is about 35 calories and is two bites. They come in tubs and of course are a staple of pinatas and Halloween bags.
They’re soft and usually take on the shape of the package, but they’re very easy to get out of the plastic wrapper once opened. It’s a true taffy, there are no egg products in there like Bonomos or Doschers taffy have. There’s a touch of oil, so they’re not completely fat free (about a half of a gram of fat per piece).
Strawberry is pretty, very pink and fragrant. It’s like cotton candy or lemonade. The flavor isn’t very strong, lightly tangy and sweet with a well moderated fake strawberry flavor. There are little snaps of salt and tartness throughout. The chew is long and steady and quite smooth.
Banana - this is an intense fake banana candy. The banana is intense enough that it gave me a cool feeling on my tongue, similar to the effect of nail polish remover in both the tingling and the strange caustic scent. I like fake banana, so the sweetness and weird artificial flavor was fun for me. Your mileage may vary.
Sour Apple - if they called this green apple, I don’t think I’d have much of an issue. However, with the word sour in there, I have certain expectations, such as tartness. This was not sour. It was not even particularly vivid, just a mild fake green apple flavor. The texture is smooth and chewy and there’s a strange salty note to it that bugged me in this instance.
Grape is purple and the taffy version of a grape SweeTart. It’s zippy with a purely artificial flavor that’s a cross between grape juice, straight malic acid and pen ink.
The jokes on them are true groaners like “How do billboards talk?” (Sign Language!) and truly poorly written ones like “What kind of chain is edible?” (A Food Chain!)
I’ve grown out of these, for my fruit chews I prefer something a little tamer and friendly like Skittles. But these have the advantage of being vegetarian (no gelatin) over products like Starburst or Bonomos. They’re Kosher; there are no nut or gluten statements on the package.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Like the other bars, it’s a standard 3.5 ounce tablet bar in a bright purple holographic wrapper (I really captured the psychedelic feature in the photo this time). The bar is milk chocolate with a little flowing, salted caramel in each segment.
The front of the package says that it’s Truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients. But then it refers you to the list of ingredients which does actually have many that are considered natural, but a few others that I’d say aren’t, such as mono- and di-glycerides, TBHQ (a preservative that keeps oils from going rancid) and hydrogenated coconut oil.
The bar mold is wonderfully designed with a complex pattern that makes every segment a little different. The bar was also expertly poured, no strange voids and a pristine surface. I went to a lot of trouble to pick out a bar at the store that wasn’t broken, but somehow I managed to break it anyway. Makes me wonder if this bar should be in a box or have a piece of cardstock as a splint.
Each segment has a thin reservoir of caramel in it. The milk chocolate was soft, but not mushy (it is summer, so I expect this). It’s creamy, rather milky and very sweet. It wasn’t quite the buttery silk of Dove, but had a lot more character as well with some strong fresh dairy notes instead of a dried milk flavor. The caramel center was sweet and sticky with a bit of a salty note. The caramel flavor was a bit artificial and not quite convincing as actual caramelized sugar, but it was still a great counterpoint in both texture and flavor to the milk chocolate.
Think of it as a deluxe Cadbury Caramello bar. The chocolate is definitely better, it has more cocoa bite to it and a creamier, less greasy texture. However, there are far better bars out there for less money. May I direct you to the Trader Joe’s Caramel Sea Salt Bar? Only $1.99 and with the far superior dark chocolate. If you prefer milk chocolate, well, that’s no help. Also, the biggest problem with the Trader Joe’s bar was how messy it was, whereas the Wonka bar does have well contained segments.
The price was silly though for a Nestle product. I’d be much more inclined in this price range to sample Lindt or Green & Black’s (especially for the organic and fair trade aspects) or just go for the value of a mass quantity like Dove’s little caramel Promises.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Milo is a chocolate malt beverage introduced in Australia in 1934 by Nestle. The powder is mixed with either hot or cold water to make the drink which boasts complex carbohydrates and added nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins and protein. It’s now become popular around the world including Southeast Asia, Europe and North America. Of course that kind of popularity means that there will be spin off products.
I’ve never had the Milo drink, but the idea of a malted beverage is right up my alley. When I saw the Nestle Milo Chocolate Bar at Mel & Rose Wine & Liquors recently, I knew I had to try it, even though the thing was nearly $5 for a 2.82 ounce bar. For that kind of coin I could get a really good chocolate bar, not just something from Nestle.
Even though Milo is an Australian drink, this bar was made in South Africa. The bar is thick and in a really easy to spot green thick plastic wrapper. The format reminds me of Cadbury big tablet bars, it’s compact at about 5.5 inches long, only 2 inches wide and thick. There are seven rows of double segments.
Instead of being a malted chocolate flavored bar, this features big chunks of the Milo beverage mix. (I can’t tell if the stuff is also mixed into the chocolate as well.)
The bar smells rich and chocolatey: Sweet, milky and with a touch of malt and coconut. The melt isn’t quite as satisfying, it’s fudgy and rather similar to any cheap chocolate. It’s sweet and has a lot of dairy to it but then the malt notes kick in to mellow out the sugar. The chunks of Milo powder are crunchy and a little gritty, but dissolve quickly with a strong malt flavor with a hint of toffee, molasses and cocoa. However, there’s a lingering bitterness after all this, a little metallic and a lot like B vitamins. It’s not off-putting, just odd for candy.
I would love this bar to have actual good chocolate, stuff that’s creamy and smooth and less sugary. But it’s Nestle, so this is about as good as it gets unless you buy one of their branded names. I don’t think I’ll pick up this bar again, for a malt fix I’ll stick with malted milk balls or seek out the Ovamaltine bar sold in Europe.
Friday, June 17, 2011
I already reviewed the bars, called Heavenly Crisp, and today I’ll tackle their new Dreamy Clusters. The Dreamy Clusters come in dark chocolate and milk chocolate, but since I was buying a full box of these and they were $4.29 each, I only picked up one. (I’ve spent close to $15 on products for review this week, which is a bit steep for me when the average cost of a review item is about a buck.)
The package describes Dreamy Clusters as crunchy crisps and creamy caramel drenched in dark chocolate. That actually sounds fantastic. Kind of like a 100 Grand bar but in dark chocolate.
The box contains more than the wafer bars, there are six packets and each is just shy of one ounce. So the value is a bit better.
The ingredients start off pretty good for candy, but go a little awry after that:
Maltitol & erythritol are sugar alcohols. They are less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose but also have a slightly cool effect on the tongue and can have some side effects (such as intestinal gas and a laxative effect). They don’t make up a large portion of the candy itself, but their presence means that the flavor and satisfaction may be affected.
The pieces themselves are quite small. But that’s no big deal if you think of them as tiny chocolates from an elegant box. I got five pieces in my bag, and I opened two bags. So I’m going to guess that’s the norm. (I also felt the other bags in the box and they seem to be the same, maybe I need to invest in a Candy Blog ultrasound machine.)
The packet that holds them is senselessly large - it’s five inches by four inches and each piece is about an inch in diameter. It does protect them, none of them were smashed though all were scuffed up.
The pieces smell great. They’re bumpy and though they vary in size, they’re pretty consistent in their construction. Each piece is made up of a caramel center with a dark chocolate coating studded with a crisped rice product. The caramel has a good pull, though it’s not a large reservoir, it only provides a small amount of chew and a large hit of salt. The dark chocolate coating is quite sweet but of good enough quality that it didn’t seem chalky or overly bitter. The main notes were raisins and a generic woodsy flavor. The crisps were salty, light and crunchy. They were bigger than the strange new things that they put in 100 Grand bars these days, so I found them pretty satisfying as a textural element. They didn’t have much of a malty cereal flavor.
Five pieces was actually satisfying. The portion sounds small (about half the mass of a Snicker or 3 Musketeers) but the fact that there were five pieces and they had a lot going on (especially if you bit them in half instead of popping them in your mouth whole) might make these a decadent little treat.
I’m annoyed by the use of the sugar alcohols and exceedingly long ingredients list. In a chocolate candy, sugar is not what racks up the calories, fat is. However, instead of substituting the inimitable cocoa butter for something else, they left it in, and just added the crisps which are part air and part lower-calorie fiber/carbs. The nutritional panel for these is decent enough - there’s actually 1 gram of protein and it says 3 grams of fiber.
It’s hard to give these a resounding endorsement because of my misgivings about their marketing (emaciated cows are appetizing?) and their ingredients. Also, the price is needlessly precious - you get half as much candy as a 100 Grand, but somehow it costs four times as much? (I’m basing that off of a $1.25 package of 8 fun size bars of 100 Grand which weights about 6 ounces.) However, these are nicely done for a candy marketed to dieters. They do taste good and without knowing that it’s “diet candy” I’d still eat them.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I don’t follow ice cream much, I can’t eat that much dairy and if I’m going to have some I’ll make it cheese. But I have seen a line of low calorie ice cream products called Skinny Cow (this concoction used to be called ice milk, which was an accurate description, but the FDA later caved and allowed it to be called low fat ice cream). Personally I’m put off by the appearance of emaciated & bony cows. It reminds me of images of drought and famine; it’s never something I would think any farmer would cultivate nor something I would associate with a healthy choice. The frozen dairy line is made by Dreyer’s, which is owned by Nestle.
The natural extension of removing calories and virtually all of the actual cream from a product that contains the word cream within its name would be to tackle chocolate. The Skinny Cow confectionery line was introduced a couple of months ago with four products. I’ll tackle their Heavenly Crisp bars today. They look and sound like they might be chocolate, but do not in fact contain any of the stuff. They come in two flavors, Milk Chocolate Flavor and Peanut Butter Flavor. I was given a sample of the milk chocolate version a few months back was honestly wasn’t that interested based on the packaging. But then I saw the whole line at the grocery store last weekend, especially the Peanut Butter Flavor and thought I’d give it a try.
The Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp Peanut Butter looks more like a nutrition bar than a candy bar (though there isn’t much nutrition in there either). The package itself is small, thin and light. The bar is only .77 ounces and the package says that it’s only 110 calories. There’s an accurate depiction of a cross section of the bar and lots of female friendly swoops and curves along with pink accents.
The bar is 4.5” long and 1” wide. It’s also quite thin, at less than a half an inch.
The bar smells good, like peanut butter and sugar, a little like the center of a Butterfinger bar. The bite is crisp and crunchy, the wafers are flavorless, but light and dissolve quickly. The cream between the layers is a salty and smooth peanut butter concoction. The chocolate coating, well, that’s a chocolate flavored coating along with a few ribbons of something yellow that I’m guessing is actually made with peanut butter. The coating melts quickly and has very little flavor that’s able to shine above the peanut butter. It’s sweeter than the peanut butter center, and of course the lighter, creamy texture provides a nice blanket to the rest of the elements.
The combination is quite tasty. There’s a lot of texture and the thinness of the bar means that there are lots of bites to it. For 110 calories, it feels like there’s more to it than a single finger of a Twix which is about the same calories. But let’s not kid ourselves, there’s not much to this, it’s mostly air. The calories per ounce are on par with any other chocolate candy out there, including most actual chocolate candies like Snickers bars, Twix or just plain chocolate.
The Skinny Cow Milk Chocolate Flavor Heavenly Crisp package looks similar to the peanut butter, naturally. I only had one bar of this to try, as it was a sample that I received before they were on store shelves.
The package describes it as delicate wafers layered with delicious milk chocolate creme. It makes no mention of the outer coating, and why would it, it’s mockolate. The ingredients for this bar are dismal for a diet food:
The chocolate coating is a little cool on the tongue and very quick to melt. In fact, the melting was such as problem that it was hard to photograph and even hold in order to eat without becoming a sticky mess. The flavor is like a chocolate pudding, more on the milky side, but still with enough of a cocoa punch to be discernible.
It was less satisfying than the Peanut Butter Flavor for some reason. It might have been that it was more sweet or that it has half of the protein.
I really resent portion control sold for premium prices, especially when the ingredients here are so convoluted from actual wholesome and tasty real ones. There’s really no reason not to use real chocolate here if overall health is the goal. Even though there’s added fiber in these bars (that’s the chicory root fiber that’s also called inulin sometimes), there’s only 1 gram per portion. A portion of 70% dark chocolate with the same number of calories has about the same amount of fiber anyway. And real chocolate is usually only four ingredients and usually half the price of this stuff per pound.
So here’s my suggestion. Eat stuff with better ingredients. Try the Q.Bel Wafer Rolls (they’re actually a little lower in calories per ounce plus all natural, about the same price and actually taste better). Trader Joe’s has some great portion control chocolate (the little Belgian Bars or even a 100 calorie Chocolate bar). Or just buy mini KitKats or Pretzel M&Ms.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
KitKat candy bars in the United States are made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. Everywhere else in the world, they’re made by Nestle. The most vibrant culture for KitKats is undoubtedly Japan, but Europe has their share of KitKat variations.
I found this KitKat Hazelnut Cream at a grocery store called Golden Farms in Glendale, CA. There’s a large Armenian population there, so the local grocers in the area tend to carry a lot of Eastern European and Middle Eastern confections. This particular bar, though in English on the front, was made in Bulgaria. The bar is the single, chunky version of the bar which clocks in at 1.48 ounces (42 grams).
Hazelnuts are much more popular in Europe and Eurasia than in the US, in part, I think, because they do not have the far cheaper peanuts in such ready supplies as we do in North America. Italy has made the chocolate and hazelnut combination world-famous with the innovation of gianduia.
First, I’m not a fan of the big, single finger chunky KitKat style of bar. There ratios are completely off, the chocolate is too thick and the cookie wafers are less delicate. Now, don’t get me wrong, thick chocolate and wafers are still a great combination. They just lack the essential properties that define the classic KitKat, the lightness and balance.
The construction of this bar is a little odd in and of itself. It’s about 4.5” long and a little over an inch wide at the base. There’s a little stack of thick, light wafers in the center with a milky cream between them. Then it’s all topped with another layer of hazelnut chocolate and then encased in milk chocolate. The thick hazelnut topper is what’s odd here, it’s a lot of chocolate flavor and texture and much less wafer.
The bite is, well, thick. It breaks easily, the milk chocolate is well tempered and this was definitely a fresh bar. The three layers of wafer cookies are crunchy and airy, and the cream between then just slightly grainy and cool on the tongue. The centerpiece of this bar is the thick cap of hazelnut chocolate on top of that though. It’s not a pasty giandiua or Nutella style hazelnut chocolate though, it’s more solid, like Milka. It’s sweet but not sticky, there’s a light toasted nutty note to it, but it doesn’t scream hazelnut to me. The chocolate overall is much creamier with more milk flavors than the American version.
It’s an admirable bar and has a lot more flavor depth with some richer caramel notes and of course the light touch of hazelnut. But my hopes were rather above that, I wanted a powerful punch of hazelnut in there, thick ribbons of cream inside those wafers. But for folks looking for a more decadent KitKat, this is actually much better than the plain KitKat Chunky bar. It’s been around for a few years, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find if you’re in the right area.
See review from Rosa at ZOMG Candy.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I love the combination of chocolate and cookies. The KitKat bar is a great confectionery combination of the two. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve craved sweets less and come to appreciate texture and taste a bit more. So an ordinary milk chocolate KitKat can be a little sweet for many snacking situations (and there are many snacking situations).
I picked up the KitKat Otonano Amasa, which is the “adult taste” version - a little less sweet and with more cookie texture.
KitKats from Japan come in smart little boxes instead of plain old plastic packaging. I suppose it’s wasteful, but they do protect the contents well. On the back there’s a little “To” and “From” section for gifting.
Inside the box are two individually packaged two-finger pieces. Each is listed as 95 calories each.
The bars are just like any other KitKat, cream filled wafers covered in chocolate. But the chocolate here has little bits of dark chocolate cookies incorporated. The taste is similar to the Oreo Bitter Bar I tried recently. But in this case the texture at the front is is the creaminess of the chocolate. The flavor is slightly bitter like charcoal or, well, Oreos. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless.
It was a great combination, I liked it so much that I bought another bag of the snack sized ones. Which is goofy because they’re ridiculously expensive for KitKats. The package here was $2.25 for 1.19 ounces, the bag was $5.89 for 5.29 ounces. I could get some fine chocolates (well, See’s) for about $16 a pound.
Which is what leads me to the trepidation I have about the bar. The ingredients.
Palm oil. That’s what the bar is. Most of the time I find palm oil candies to be greasy and stiff, but this was really well done for a rainforest destroying confection. Oh, and palm oil is bad for you. Far worse than cocoa butter. So if I’m going for a candy that has a whopping 160 calories per ounce (which is about as high as the scale goes), it’d better be exceptional. So while I enjoyed this candy physically like it was a 10 out of 10, the price and ingredients knock it back to 8 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.