Wednesday, April 25, 2012
My weaknesses are cream filled wafers, peanut butter and dark chocolate. (Well, I have more weaknesses than that.) So it’s only natural that I picked up Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies last weekend.
The package promises that they’d be Crunchy, Creamy, Salty, Sweet!
The gusseted bag is rather small, but predicts 8 full servings, if each serving is only four pieces. Not so easy. These are also calorie bombs, if I believe the Trader Joe’s Nutrition Facts label. It shows that that serving of four pieces is 26 grams (.92 ounces) and clock in at 160 calories. That’s 174 calories per ounce. I’m not sure that’s possible when the third ingredient is flour. But there you have it, one of the most calorie dense products I’ve ever reviewed.
The pieces are pretty small, a little shy of a quarter of an ounce each and a little under one inch square and half an inch high. They don’t smell like much, I expected roasted peanut scent when I opened the package. I liked that, I liked that the dark chocolate must have sealed it all in.
The dark chocolate is quite dark but has a good, immediate melt. It’s a little on the bitter side but has strong woody and charcoal flavors. The wafers are pretty thick, much thicker and airier than I expected. Their flavor is mild, but has a light malt note to it. The cream between the wafers is part peanut butter with a little milk or coconut oil to make it smoother. The texture combination is fantastic. The size of each piece makes it easy to cleave the layers apart with my teeth, or just eat it whole. (Eating it in two pieces can be messy, as some of the chocolate may fall off.)
I found them filling, but not heavy like some peanut butter products can be. Each element was well balanced. The chocolate filled its role without overwhelming the peanut butter flavors, the peanut butter wasn’t so thick and sticky and the wafers were light and airy without getting gummy or tacky.
Really what I wish they had was a better name that didn’t use 9 words.
The pieces are great for sharing and munching as a snack. (Though be careful of that calorie count.) They look good in a small bowl, but I’d wager it’d be empty pretty soon. I would buy these again and would love to see them in other varieties.
There’s no notice on the package or Trader Joe’s website about the origin or ethical sourcing of the chocolate and other ingredients. It’s all natural with no preservatives. Contains soy, wheat, milk and peanuts.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Pocky, the popular Japanese sweet snack, comes in a wide variety of flavors. One of the more popular versions has been the Almond Crush (which also spawned a tastyCookie Crush version). It only makes sense that other nuts would be tried, so today I have Glico Pocky Chocolate Peanut Crush.
The package is big (and came with a similarly hefty price tag) with six little packages of four sticks in a cool flip top box. The serving suggestion is black coffee served in fine china on a gold tray. I’m going to just eat it out of the cellophane package with some water.
They smell great. It’s a dark roasted scent that’s fresh and reminded me immediately (oddly enough) of a really good Nutty Buddy ice cream cone. The crushed peanuts adhere to the short cookie stick with some middling milk chocolate (it might be mockolate, a chocolate compound with some extra vegetable fat in it). The flavors really are about the peanuts and the chocolate is just there to keep it all stuck together and add a little sweet creamy note.
The cookie stick of Pocky isn’t very sweet and though it’s crispy, I woudn’t really call it light either. It has a light toasted flavor ... think of it as the difference between a biscuit and a scone.
The whole thing is barely sweet, more like a snack, thought’s not salty either. I would definitely buy these again if not for the expense - it was $5.49 for the box which means almost a buck for each little packet inside. But each package was rather filling and satisfying, a good blend of protein, carbs and easy sugar.
I have no idea about Glico’s environmental standing or their ethical sourcing of ingredients. The product contains peanuts, wheat, dairy, almonds and soy. But maybe it’s shellfish and egg free, you’ll have to check with the maker.
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, February 17, 2012
Double Dutch Sweets in Oakland, California makes an artisan confection called The Ramona Bar. Think of it as a Snickers made by hand.
The bar is set apart from other mass-manufactured fare at first glance. It’s wrapped by hand in foil with a lively printed sleeve that gives the simple description: layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts dipped in dark chocolate and finished with sea salt.
The tall and beefy bar is quite a portion for an artisan product. It’s 1.8 ounces packed into barely 3.5 inches.
The ingredients are mostly organic and all natural. The construction of the bar will seem familiar. A nougat base studded with peanuts, topped with a generous layer of caramel, then coated in Venezuelan origin dark chocolate with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt.
A Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces, so just a little larger and features a milk chocolate coating. There are so many other differences though, it’s hard to even compare the bars. The Ramona Bar has a similar bite, it’s thick and has a mix of textures. There are far fewer peanuts in the Ramona than a Snickers, and the nougat tastes more like a plain nougat while a Snickers has a peanut flavor to its nougat.
The caramel was really the star here; for me it was the ideal texture - chewy, stringy, smooth and with a dark toasted flavor and notes of salt. The addition of the salt on top of the chocolate though was sometimes just a little too much. The nougat was not as good for me. It was less of a French style nougat or Italian torrone, which has a mostly smooth texture, kind of like a dense marshmallow. This was more like the fluffed stuff of Snickers or Milky Way fame. It was like a fluffy fondant. It did have a less-grainy texture that was almost cool on the tongue as it dissolved. The textures worked well together, just as they do in a Snickers, but I was missing a flavor component from the nougat and the strength of lots of peanuts. (Or Almonds, if they wanted to go that way.)
The bars cost $6.00, which is about a little more than $53 a pound. (A Snickers bar, at $1 a bar would be about $16 a pound.) Is it six times better? Well, I feel better because the ingredients are great and someone really cared about the bar and it’s made with Venezuelan chocolate, so I wouldn’t be worrying about child slavery. But it’s not my perfect candy bar. For $6, I want my perfect candy bar. For $1, I can accept less than perfect. But it might be your perfect candy bar, and you might not know until you try. (I’m still happy to try all other bars that Double Dutch Sweets comes up with.)
The bars are gluten free.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
In the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store they always seem to have a lot of boxed items filled with sugar and labeled as Snacks. When I go into Target or a grocery store these same items are shelved with the granola bars, not far from the cereal, as if they’re real food.
I picked up this box of SpongeBob Squarepants Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Snacks made by Frankford Candy. They also make Disney licensed candy, including a similar set for the Cars characters.
But again, I puzzled over what made these snacks instead of candy.
Inside the box are 6 packets, each are .53 ounces each and hold what must be a child’s portion of teensy little milk chocolate character shapes.
The ingredients are:
It’s not so different from the ingredients for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. So, let’s just stop calling these snacks, unless all foods designed to be eaten outside of a meal are deemed snacks. They’re candy. Teensy little bags of candy.
They come in three shapes: SpongeBob, Patrick and Mr Krabs. There are about 15-16 pieces in each little pouch. The pouches feature the full ingredients list and calorie count and a large portion of the front of the wrapper is dedicated to the face of SpongeBob.
It’s hard to imagine that something this small is actually filled, but they are. They’re about a half an inch across (except for Patrick’s spiky arms, which give him another eighth of an inch) yet still have a thin reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
The pieces are waxy and smell like Easter. The chocolate doesn’t really melt, but it dissolves well enough and they’re not as greasy as some peanut butter candies can get. They’re sweet and have a strong roasted peanut scent. The but the peanut butter flavor is lacking. The sweet and marginal chocolate is barely smooth and the slightly grainy peanut butter center is rather bitter. There’s a little extra salt in there but for the most part it’s a big old bag of failure.
These have been around for two or three years and Hungry Girl raves about them. My opinion is, if you really need a teensy portion of a snack, buy some really good candy. Even if it’s only a half an ounce, if you’re eating this as a treat, it’d better be good. If you love peanut butter cups, have two of the Reese’s foil wrapped minis - those are 44 calories each or even better, the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cups. Or go for something fantastic like a beefy chocolate truffle or a set of very dark chocolate tasting squares. Something that you really pause and enjoy, not this stuff that is only good enough to shovel down your maw without chewing.
What I’m left with when it comes to licensed merchandise is the dismal reality that most of it sucks. My guess is that the candy maker spends a large sum of money securing the branding for the product and they don’t have much left for the actual ingredients and quality. There’s also no indication of the ethical sourcing of any of the ingredients. They’re made in the USA, but for those with allergy issues, it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. At least these sea creatures have no shellfish present.
Friday, December 30, 2011
I’ve been having a ridiculous time with these Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. They’re not new, I believe they’ve been around for a few years in the tubs. But for some reason the masterminds of impulse purchases at Trader Joe’s headquarters decided to change the packaging.
For the past two months these little 3.5 ounce bags of the peanut butter cups have been priced at 99 cents and featured in barrels by the registers in all the Trader Joe’s I’ve been in. It’s hard to resist the sub-buck price for something that’s such a good value. About half the price of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup per ounce.
Not only have I fallen prey, so has everyone else in my office. So once my little supply (I’ll buy two or three bags and put them in a jar on my desk) has dwindled, someone else will come by and plop another bag on my desk to replenish.
Inside the simple packet are eight miniature sized dark chocolate peanut butter cups in foil. Each weighs about 12 grams (.42 ounces) and has 60 calories. The ingredients are decent, no partially hydrogenated fats in there. But there are milk products (milk fat in the chocolate and lactose in the peanut butter filling) so it’s not vegan and no good for those with dairy sensitivities.
The cups are classic, they come in little fluted paper cups and pull away easily from the candy. While some peanut butter cups will have leakage issues around the sides, the peanut butter was always completely enveloped in chocolate with every one I ate.
The chocolate is semi sweet (50% cacao), not terribly dark but still with a strong bitter note to it. It’s smooth and rather fatty, so it stands up well to the fats of the peanut butter center.
The peanut butter center is rather sweet and a bit on the fudgy side. It’s smoother than most, but not silken or whipped. It’s sweet but nutty, the roasting gives the peanuts a bit of a bitter and woodsy note to them that stands up to the dark chocolate. The peanut density though is a little thin, it was more like I was eating a peanut butter frosting than actual peanut butter. There’s a hint of salt in there. They’re Kosher but may contain traces of tree nuts, eggs and wheat (so they’re not gluten free).
It’s a good iteration of the peanut butter cup, though not my favorite treatment for the peanut butter center. I can’t argue with the price or the portioning. I don’t know if I’m going to pick them up in the big tub, even though it’s probably a better price per ounce, but I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s for their inspired stealth marketing on this one.
Monday, December 5, 2011
R.M. Palmer makes charming and cheap candy for the holidays. Their Christmas candies are never as appealing as their Easter goods but I was intrigued by their new RM Palmer Giant 1/4 Peanut Butter Cup.
Giant candy is pretty common as a holiday gift, especially as a stocking stuffer or Secret Santa item. This one isn’t quite as amazing as the Snickers Slice n’ Share or 1 Lb Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but it’s certainly affordable at only $1.00.
The package is simple. There were two designs, the red wrapper I picked out features an elf on a snowboard. There’s a green version that had a Santa on it.
The packaging is spare, it’s just a plastic sleeve, there’s no cardboard tray or even a fluted cup. However, this was more than sufficient, my cup came out the wrapper looking nearly flawless.
Like nearly all R.M. Palmer candies, this is a very nicely made product. The mold is well designed and attractive. The large cup has some attractive design details, including a little inset bevel and texture on the bottom of cup. The fluting is crisp and the mockolate coating is shiny.
The cup is three and a half inches in diameter and just a smidge over a half an inch thick. The package says that it’s four servings, which would be one ounce each. It’d be pretty easy to divide this up, it cuts easily with even a butter knife. However, one ounce is a rather small portion for candy. The typical is about 1.5 (which is what a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are).
The first ingredient on the list is sugar, which I fully expected. The second is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil made from palm kernel and/or palm oil. It’s pretty widely known now that partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. And trans fats need to be reported on the nutrition facts panel. However, if it’s less than a half a gram of trans fat, it can be listed as zero. So it’s entirely possible that a “truer serving size” of 1.5 ounces would have a measurable amount of trans fat. Or it could be that RM Palmer figured that people could quarter things easily but probably couldn’t cut them into 3/8 as easily. (Well, you’d just cut it into 8 pieces and take a serving of three of those, but I don’t think they’d be structurally sound.)
The cup smells good, like sweet peanut butter. The bite is soft and the peanut butter is smooth. It’s an odd cup, I was fully willing to hate it based on the ingredients. However, the peanut butter center is really good. It’s soft but not greasy, smooth but not quite silky. There’s a slight coolness to both the mockolate and the peanut butter on the tongue. The flavor of the peanut butter center is sweet, not quite as salty or crumbly/dry as a Reese’s, it’s more like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
For kids or the not-too-picky, it’s a fun little treat. It’s far from gourmet, but it fits in as affordable and over-the-top little gift.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
At Christmas one of the great gifts is an excessive version of something mundane but much-loved. For candy this means colossal proportions. Oh sure, you could just get a wholesale sized bag of M&Ms or Skittles. But there’s something special about a version that’s substantially larger than the norm: Giant Hershey’s Kisses, Giant Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Giant Candy Canes and Giant Gummi Bears.
Mars is in the game this year with their Snickers Slice n’ Share bar. This year it’s exclusive to CVS stores. I found mine after going to several stores and it was even on sale for $7.99, regular price is $9.99.
The Snickers Slice ‘n Share is 16 ounces, while a standard Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces (so 8 times bigger). It’s also 9 times the price. The best value is probably to buy the snack size, which are about $1.25 for eight little bars totally 5 ounces - which comes out to $4.00 a pound instead of $7.99 a pound. But that’s simply not magnificent enough for gifting or wowing your guests. (See this 1925 ad for Oh Henry! that features the suggestion to slice and serve.)
The bar is protected in a paperboard tray and came out looking pretty good. It’s 9.5 inches long, about one inch high and 2.5” wide. A standard Snickers is only 1” wide.
There’s simply no way to depict how massive this thing is with photos because it’s dense and heavy. Honestly, I expected one pound of candy to have a bit more volume, but Snickers are certainly compact.
Like the old advertising slogan, this Snickers is packed with peanuts. The caramel envelops them completely and they’re jam packed in there all the way through the bar. The caramel and nougat layers are completely distinct and the chocolate is very thick, especially on the sides and the ripple on the top. It does flake off easily, but usually in big chunks that are easy to pick up and pop in your mouth.
The serving size suggested is a 1 inch slice (which is about 1.75 ounces - less than the 2.07 ounce regular bar). I found that to be a bit too thick and unwieldy, so I usually went for something about a 1/2 inch slice. It slices quite easily without falling apart, as long as you have a good, wide knife. A butter knife or steak knife are too small and narrow. A chef’s knife or even a clever does a much better job. Anything less than a half an inch though and the piece will not hold together well.
Also, I found that cutting straight down, with even pressure (chopping) was better than trying to angle it. The pieces came out cleaner and with less chocolate loss.
I loved the bar. I actually think I enjoyed it more than any other Snickers I’ve had in years. The peanuts were fresh, the caramel was thick, distinct and chewy plus the nougat was soft, slightly salty with a nice peanut butter toffee flavor. The layers are much more defined and folks who like to eat particular parts separately will have a great time.
Giant candy has always struck me as the kind of gift a kid would give to a parent or other relative. Not that I’d complain if my niece or nephew came me a giant version of a beloved candy. It’s a way to make a favorite special. But they’re not for everyday consumption. The specialness of the price assures that. But I expect because it’s under $10, it should find its way into many stockings this year, or because of its size, it will be adjacent to the stocking ... and featured heavily on early nights of Hanukkah.
The bar has all the same ingredients as the smaller versions. It’s hard to compare the nutritional value because of the difference in serving sizes, but the calories per ounce are greater for the Slice n’ Share than the regular size, so I’m going to guess that there’s more chocolate per bite on the small one since that’s where the densest calories are.
At a certain point something so large that it requires implements ceases to be candy. Candy is ready to eat, requires no knives or assembly.
The package warns that there are traces of tree nuts and wheat, plus it contains eggs, soy, peanuts and milk. Mars does not use fair trade or certified ethically traded chocolate for this product (though they’re working on it - their Maltesers malted milk balls will be Fair Trade next year in the UK).
UPDATE 12/5/2012: Snickers Slice n Share are back in stores for the holidays. They’re found in a much wider array of stores, I’ve seen them at Target, CVS, IT’SUGAR and a few others as well as on internet stores. Discount chains usually have them for $10-12, while the other stores like IT’SUGAR have them for about $20.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.