Thursday, September 29, 2011
Abdallah Candies was founded in 1909 by Albert Abdallah in Minneapolis. The company still run by the family using traditional recipes and focusing on classic candy products like caramels, dipped fruit and chocolates.
I picked up an assortment of Abdallah’s Wrapped Caramels while on vacation here in California. They’re cute little two bite pieces that I thought were reasonably priced at 60 cents each.
Their varieties go beyond the typical vanilla, chocolate and nut versions. They offer about a dozen different kinds. They’re wrapped in clear cellophane, which shows of the candy very nicely.
I tried three different varieties:
Vanilla Caramels I started with the classic, as this is the base of the other caramel candies. The color is a pleasing creamy brown. The pull of the caramel was good, stringy without being too tough or grainy. The flavor was sweet with milky notes ... I tend to prefer a little more salt in my caramel these days, but this was still a great classic vanilla caramel.
Pecan Caramel Nougat is, as you can probably tell from the photo, a layer of pecan nougat sandwiched between two layers of the vanilla caramel. The pecans were soft but crunchy with a woodsy maple flavor. The nougat didn’t do much for me in the way of actual flavor (no honey notes) but the chewy and denser texture was interesting compared to the softer, quicker dissolve of the caramel.
I wouldn’t call it a complete win for me, but I loved the addition of the nuts.
Pecan Alligator Caramels are another layered caramel. The top is a chocolate caramel and the bottom is a pecan vanilla caramel. It’s great. It’s soft and chewy, the chocolate gives it a little smoky and salty edge, the nuts are fresh and ample, the caramelized sugar notes are perceptible ... I loved this one. It was a little grainier, could have just been that I ate them last of my little set, so they might have gotten a little humid.
I’m absolutely intrigued by Abdallah now. I want to order more of their candy directly but I’m a little hesitant as I sent them an email with a question on Monday and they still haven’t responded. But their prices are very reasonable. I had no trouble plunking down 60 cents for each of these.
The other items on their website include other caramel and nut combinations called Alligators (completely chocolate dipped nut caramels) and Grizzlies (caramels with whole nuts and dollops of chocolate). The confectioner has a factory store in Burnsville, Minnesota that you can get fresh candy and even watch the factory floor where they dip their chocolates (photos on their facebook page).
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I mentioned this bar a couple of months ago in a candy tease. It’s called Frey Chocobloc AIR and as you might guess from the name, it’s an aerated chocolate bar. Frey is a large Swiss chocolate company (I used to see their bars at Target and often at airport duty free shops) but they’re not as well known in North America as some others.
Now that I’ve had the Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses, I thought it was a good time to compare it to another newly introduced product.
Frey makes a line of bars called Chocobloc which have a similar format to the Kraft Toblerone bar. They’re a long, chunky block that has little divided, angular sections. The regular Chocobloc bars are 100 grams, the aerated AIR bar is only 70 grams. But what’s really different about this bar from all the other aerated chocolate out there right now is that this is a milk chocolate bar with honey nougat and almonds. The milk chocolate does have a lot of cocoa content, 34% according to the label.
I know it seems odd to note it, but there are a lot of bubbles in the bar. I’m not calling your attention in this case to the ones in the center, but the edges of the bar, the peaks and corners have a lot of voids. A well molded bar, even one with inclusions will have an even surface.
The bar does feel light and the color is also on the creamy milky side of things. The pieces cleave off easily, much better than some other blocky bars (like the Toblerone). It smells quite milky and a little like malt and honey. There are little hard nougat bits in there, just tiny chips.
The bar melts quickly and has a very strong, sweet flavor to it. There are caramel and honey notes and quite a bit of the powdered dairy taste that Swiss chocolate often has. It’s not very chocolatey but still the melt is velvety enough.
As far as its performance as an aerated bar, it was light and did have a bit of a foamy melt with all the air included. About 30% of the mass of an ordinary bar was missing because of the air bubbles. But it also tasted a lot sweeter. Perhaps a dark chocolate version of this would be more to my liking.
The comparison to the other bars I’ve tried to so far is similar. The texture of this one in particular felt a bit smoother and I liked the notes of honey. But aerated still isn’t a trend I’m hopping on. There’s really nothing here that’s perceptibly better than solid chocolate. If you’re looking for something that gives the appearance of more to trick yourself that you’re eating lots, well, maybe this will do the trick for you but be warned that ounce for ounce, this is some pretty high calorie stuff. But the sugary flavor couldn’t match the satisfaction of slightly bitter, very dark chocolate for me.
(I used a photo from Frey for the package image. In the case of the review bar I received, it was in the Swiss packaging, which is sold there as Mahony Sweet Air - photo.)
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
3 Musketeers bars were introduced in 1932; at the time the name of the bar made more sense back then, when it was three joined sections, each with a different flavored filling: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The bar was later simplified in 1945 into three sections that were all chocolate flavored nougat. 3 Musketeers were one of the first candy bars advertised heavily on television. (They had a long-standing sponsorship with the Howdy Doody Show.)
The shape of the bar has also changed a bit along with the packaging, but the frothy soft filling and milk chocolate coating have pretty much remained the same. A couple of months ago Mars announced that one of their oldest bars was going to get an upgrade: Mars has reformulated the classic light and fluffy taste of 3 MUSKETEERS Bar to deliver a richer chocolate experience. Taste is the leading driver of sales for 3 MUSKETEERS Bar, and this new enhancement still satisfies as a lighter candy bar (45 percent less fat) while increasing the chocolate appeal among consumers.
Mars sent me a couple of preview bars, but I’ve already seen them on store shelves (Walgreen’s). I also picked up a classic formula bar for comparison. The new richer chocolate is on the left and the classic (still quite fresh) is on the right. The size and weight of the bars is identical, as is the nutritional panel. I also could not find any differences in the ingredients, which means that they made this a richer chocolate experience without altering the predominance of any item to the point that the label would need to be changed.
The filling is a nougat and is made of sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil and then less than 2% of cocoa powder processed with alkali, salt, egg whites, artificial and natural flavors. So a smidge more cocoa that doesn’t exceed the amount of hydrogenated palm kernel oil and there’s no need to change the label ... unless it’s to sell consumers on the new richer chocolate experience.
The look of the bars on the outside is the same. The little swirls of the milk chocolate coating on the classic recipe were a little deeper, but that could simply be a difference attributed to a particular machine. When I bit into them though, I could see a difference in color. The new Richer Chocolate Taste does look a little more cocoa colored. The classic looks, well, colorless and a bit desaturated.
The bar feels light but still quite bulky. The scent is sweet but with a creamy cocoa note to it that’s quite inviting. The chocolate shell is okay, it’s not creamy or richly chocolate, more of a functional container for the foamy nougat inside. The center is soft and fluffy and I noticed that it wasn’t at all grainy. The nougat has a light salty note to it, not overly salty, just a different sort of tone from the chocolate coating. The cocoa flavor was so very light, but at least it wasn’t as throat-searingly sweet as I expected.
Upon comparing it to the classic formula, it is most definitely more chocolatey. But if I’d not tasted the original, I can’t say that this would turn me into a 3 Musketeers consumer.
The bar is quite big. Two ounces is a lot of candy, especially when it’s one that’s so monotonous. I got through half the bar but then had to put it down.
The candy bars are currently marketed to women and folks who are looking for lighter candy. It’s true that its caloric density is less than many other nutty and chocolatey-er candies. But it’s also bigger. So a full 3 Musketeers bar may have 45% less fat than “the average of the leading brands”, but that doesn’t take into account the portion size. In the end, calories are calories and this bar has 260 of them - more of them are empty, unsatisfying sugar that lacks a true chocolate punch with all of its fatty, melty notes. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky (well, getting old, I’ve always been cranky) but I’m starting to come around to the whole idea that fewer ingredients make for a better flavor and texture experience. Real chocolate has rich chocolate taste. You want a real chocolate taste experience? Have some real chocolate. It’s probably better for you than the empty calories and hopped up hydrogenated de-rainforesting palm oils.
If you love 3 Musketeers, chances are you’re going to be keen on the slight improvements here. But if you love chocolate, stick to real chocolate. I’d say half the portion of actual real chocolate is more fulfilling than this empty thing. But if you love texture, then maybe the tweaked bar is your new best friend forever.
Update 10/29/2012: According to Mars they’re going back to the original formula. So look for packages that don’t say “richer chocolate taste” for the classic version.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The banner across the bottom of the logo says that this is Whipped Up, Fluffy Chocolate with Marshmallow Taste.
I don’t think they come in a full bar format, just this package of Minis. The bag weighs 9 ounces, but looks like it has a lot in it, probably because of all the teensy wrappers.
Mars thinks it can get into the marshmallow game. Actually, they’re not getting into the marshmallow game, they’re getting into the marshmallow flavored game. The one thing these have going for them is that they’re safe for vegetarians. There are egg whites in there, so it’d have to be lacto/ovo vegetarians. And those vegetarians would probably be better off never having tried a real marshmallow, so they won’t be quite as disappointed.
The pieces are tiny squares (almost cubes) - about three quarters of an inch at the base and a little over a half an inch high. They’re milk chocolate, though the chocolate coating is so thin it’s translucent in spots. The center is light and fluffy, though not quite foamy like marshmallow. The over-riding flavor is salty for me. There’s no malt to it and really no vanilla, so I was left with something that was trying to be less sweet but not quite succeeding. Though the salt covers up the sweetness on the tongue, it doesn’t disguise it in the back of my throat where it burns.
Plain marshmallows are airy and not quite sweet and are usually a generic vanilla flavor. These are just sugar flavored, I got no vanilla notes in there, and no toasted notes either.
Personally, a regular 3 Musketeers bar needs more flavor to please me. I even rechecked my 3 Musketeers opinion by eating some Minis side by side with the marshmallow version - there’s not enough cocoa or malt flavor and the texture is just too underwhelming. If you’re the kind of person who thought the classic needed less flavor, this is the candy for you.
The packaging says that 1 mini has only 25 calories, so it’s pretty easy to parcel out a portion of 100 calories. It also says that there’s 45% less fat than leading chocolate brands. Well, the calories per ounce are 124 by my calculation, so that’s more than a York Peppermint Pattie (113 per ounce) but less than a Twix (140 per ounce). I prefer both when it comes to taste.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Zingerman’s makes a line of artisan candy bars called Zzang! Candy Bars. I’ve reviewed the Cashew Cow and What the Fudge? bars before. (I’ve also tried the original but never reviewed it) and found them pretty good but not earth shatteringly superior enough to warrant the high price.
I saw the newest addition to the line, the Zzang! Wowza Candy Bar. The description is Creamy raspberry-chocolate ganache, raspberry preserves and fresh raspberry nougat in a crisp dark chocolate shell. Well, that sounds completely original. It’s not an upscale Snickers, it’s something completely different, something fruity, which is sorely lacking in candy bars.
The box is small but protects the bar pretty well. Inside the box the long bar is tucked inside a silvery mylar wrapper. My bar had a little crack all along one side (the side I didn’t photograph) near the top that let the raspberry preserves leak out a little bit. I was worried that this would affect the texture or flavors.
I really went into this with an open mind, because I couldn’t even figure out what the bar was supposed to be like. It blew me away.
The shell is pretty thick on the top and bottom, but thin on the sides, so it cracks a lot. The bar had a strong woody raspberry scent, a little hint of chocolate but mostly that seedy smell of raspberry jam. I had trouble biting the bar, because the nougat center was very soft, so I ended up eating it sideways.
I’ll take this in layers. The bottom layer doesn’t look that big and it really isn’t. It’s a silky smooth and rich raspberry ganache. The chocolate is decadent and fatty with good roasted coffee and toasted sugar flavors. The raspberry notes are purely floral. The next layer is the unique part here. It’s more like a flowing raspberry marshmallow. There is not hint of sugary grain and it’s quite fluffy, but also incredibly sticky. It’s not quite chewy or tacky either. The raspberry flavor is subtle, it’s just a hint of the raspberry essence. Then the top is a little bit of raspberry jam. This part wasn’t so great for me texture wise - it was a tangy raspberry jam (seedless) but had a strong sugary grain to it.
Eaten together, as a single bite, the creamy ganache gives a lot of deep flavors to offset the mostly sweet nougat. The tangy and grainy preserves give a sour pop to it all and the dark chocolate shell keeps it all together, bringing the cocoa flavors back again. But I also tried eating the layers separately. The ganache is on par with truffles I’ve had from some of the best chocolatiers. The nougat was just fascinating because it was so smooth and fluffy and like marshmallow but with flavor. It was a very sticky affair though. The only real issue with it as a whole was the graininess of the preserves and I really think that was because of the little crack in the bar that allowed it to do that. Even with that, the texture difference wasn’t distracting.
The ratios were pretty perfect. I might want more preserves, if they’re not grainy.
The bar has some drawbacks. One of the issues that I had with the previous bars that I tried was the inaccurate labeling. This bar is more of the same. The front of the box says that it’s 3 ounces. The nutrition label says that it’s 82 grams, which is 2.89 ounces. I know that’s less than a 4% difference, but if they know it’s only 2.89, then why does it say it’s bigger on the front. Why not round down to 2.75? Because 3 sounds better.
The second labeling problem is, in my opinion, more substantial. Here’s what the package says:
There is simply no way this bar has only 100 calories per ounce (300 for the whole bar). I wrote to Zingerman’s and corresponded with Charlie Frank, the candy maker. He agreed that something may be off with their calculations (because that’s really how big the bars are - between 2.89 and 3 ounces) and they’re going to re-check them. So I’m going to guess that this comes in at about 130 calories per ounce (there’s not a lot of ganache there and nougat is not very caloricly dense, but there’s also a chocolate coating). So that’d make the bar about 375 calories ... at least.
The labeling aside, I liked the bar and I would definitely buy it again, even at $5 each. I want to see more of these bars using this style of nougat too, something like a Malted Truffle S’More would be nice. How about this: Malted Milk Ganache on a thin Graham Cracker with Toasted Sugar Nougat covered in Milk Chocolate.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
While I didn’t get to attend the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago back in May, Mars was kind enough to send me some samples of their candies that haven’t hit store shelves yet. The one that got the most buzz (after Pretzel M&Ms, naturally) was the new Snickers Peanut Butter Squared.
First, it’s a new product in the Snickers line, not a limited edition. It’ll come out in December, but they’re obviously gearing up for a big push if they were distributing fully packaged samples more than six months in advance.
There are a lot of things that are different about this bar. The packaging is a little flatter, shorter and wider than the standard Snickers “log” package. The yellow background reminded me of the recently discontinued Snickers Cruncher.
Inside the package are two squares. See, it’s not even a bar, it’s two pieces. They’re 1.25 inches square and about .75 inches high. There’s a nice ripple on the top. They’re nicely made, beautiful to look at when placed on a plate and enjoyed like a fine chocolate.
What’s different isn’t just that this is a smaller candy. It’s 1.78 ounces total (.89 ounces per piece) and the package says that you can “twist wrap” to keep the second piece fresh. It might be about portion control. There are only 250 calories in this package compared to the 2.07 ounce classic Snickers that clocks in at 271 calories. So you’re paying more, perhaps gaining the ability to stop halfway.
But it’s not just the shape that’s different. Inside is a radical change for Snickers lovers. It’s a base of peanut butter nougat layered with a dry but dense peanut butter layer then a thin layer of caramel all covered in milk chocolate. So the caramel is minimized and the peanut butter portion is upped ... but it feels like there are fewer actual peanuts.
It smells just like a Snickers. Biting into it, it’s not as thick and the layers aren’t as distinct. The caramel is just a thin layer that’s a little tougher than the others. The peanut butter and nougat weren’t very distinct. It was a little salty and very peanutty. The chocolate was creamy. But there was something just kind of bland for me. I missed the decadent chew of the caramel, especially because it combined with the other flavors to create something new and wonderful in the mouth. However, there’s a much more intense peanut butter experience; the texture is far smoother than, say, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but not quite creamy.
I had two of these to try, so I got a pretty good sense of them. If you were a fan of the Snickers Nut ‘n’ Butter Crunch or Snickers Fudge, which I consider drier bars because they don’t have caramel, then this might be a good substitution. I actually prefer the Snickers Xtreme, which goes the other direction. It’s a bar with just caramel and peanuts. It was a limited edition item that will return in September 2010.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The happy red wrapper features jaunty typography and little playing card suit symbols in lavender. The name has one of those Z things on the end of it, I’m not sure if it was because there as already a Joker bar and they had to pick another name (actors usually go with a middle initial). Or maybe that was to make it cool and hip. As cool and hip as a vegan who doesn’t eat real chocolate. Much of the wrapper is spent explaining what’s not in the bar. There are no dairy ingredients or cholesterol, no hydrogenated oils or trans fats and it’s free from artificial flavors and colors. Their description on the website is a little more appealing:
The bar, if you couldn’t already tell, is a vegan version of a Snickers. But really it’s just inspired by the Snickers, as there’s very little that’s the same except for the inclusion of peanuts. The bar I got was a little worse for wear. A bit melted on one side, this is generally the hazard with mockolate candy, which often has a lower melting point than chocolate. But the good thing about mockolate is it doesn’t lose its tempering as easily - so the texture that exists is generally the same after resolidifying.
The construction inside is a smooth and dense “nougat” with peanuts on top and then layered with a caramel-like chew. It’s all covered in a thin layer of rice-milk mockolate. The bar is a bit flatter than Snickers (about the same weight though, which is 2.07 ounces), but also a bit longer (about 4.25 inches long).
The bar does smell good, like opening a can of Spanish peanuts. Lightly toasted, the nut aromas are not at all dark and there are hints of toffee sweetness.
The texture had a few similarities to the Twilight - a chewiness but no buttery caramel flavors. The good news is that the grassy and green tasting peanuts covered up a lot of other things that I found lacking in this bar. The chocolate coating felt greasy (possibly because parts of it were melted & reformed) and the nougat center simply had none of the fluffy qualities associated with American nougat nor the silky dissolve of the European versions.
The bar was filling, too filling for me, I was pretty satiated after about a third of it.
I liked it better than Twilight and Buccaneer, but then again I like Snickers better than Milky Way or 3 Musketeers for the simple reason that I like peanuts. I’d rank it as my second favorite of the Go Max Go bars, but really, don’t make me eat any more of them.
On the whole I don’t like things that pretend to be other things: fake meat, fake fur and certainly not fake chocolate. But these bars go further, they try to emulate complex things like caramel and nougat, which can be done, but I have to wonder why. There are plenty of other fabulous vegan things that can be done with sugar and chocolate (and nuts) - trying to pretend to be something else instead of something originally awesome is just an exercise in disappointment.
For a vegan version of this candy, try Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews (also called Chew-Ets) in the dark version. Far cheaper but not free of hydrogenated oils.
(For anyone interested in the candy maker’s reaction to this post, check this out.)
Go Max Go is not organic, not fair trade, not Kosher and is made in a facility with dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts and other tree nuts. They do market themselves as dairy free and gluten free, but there can be traces because of their manufacturing practices.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
the rich brown wrapper features a little black pirate flag and a trail to an X marking the spot. At exactly 2 ounces it’s a hefty bar, though pretty spare in calories because of the low fat content - it only clocks in at 230 calories (115 per ounce, very low for a candy bar). But it’s also expensive, $2.39 which figures out to a little more than $19 per pound.
I don’t know that much about Buccaneers except that they were the specific pirates of the Caribbean of the 17th century. They were nothing like Musketeers, which were soldiers under employ of the crown.
From the description I was expecting something similar to the 3 Musketeers Bar. Though it’s not quite as square in shape, it does resemble it from the outside. But that’s about as far as it goes. Instead of a rounded-right-angled shape it’s more of a slumped dome.
The filling is not nougaty, it’s more like a cross between a fudge and a caramel. The texture is fluffier than a fudge, but chewy as well. There’s no satisfying caramel pull or even any smoked sugar notes. The malt flavors are good, a little on the cereal side without the milk notes but also a good enough salt hit to make it interesting.
It’s not as sweet as the Twilight bar, but the texture and mouthplay isn’t as interesting. The chocolate component is wholly lacking and not worth the extra palm oil calories, spare as they might be.
Part of the problem may be that I’ve never found the 3 Musketeers bar to to my liking, so a vegan version probably start with marks against it.
Though it’s all natural and vegan, it’s made on shared equipment with dairy, eggs, wheat, tree nuts and peanuts. They do market themselves as dairy free and gluten free, but there can be traces because of their manufacturing practices.
(For anyone interested in the candy maker’s reaction to this post, check this out.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.