Monday, February 18, 2013
Annabelle’s, the California company that now makes Abba-Zabas came out with a new flavor last year, the Abba-Zaba Strawberry & Peanut Butter. The little starburst on the side of the package says “PB&J with real peanut butter.”
The color of the package is extraordinary. The regular flavor is taxi-cab yellow and black ... for strawberry they went magenta and black. It looks like nothing else on the shelves.
I’m not a huge consumer of Abba-Zaba, I’m more of a Look or Big Hunk fan, as the Annabelle’s bars go. The concept is strong, but the flavor profiles & textures are just a little off for my tastes.
The Strawberry Abba-Zaba has a fruity taffy outside. It’s sweet, though not sickeningly. The bar is best if you smack it on the edge of a table before you open it to break it into easy to eat pieces. The taffy is flavored only with the scent of strawberries, it’s not a tangy taffy. So the idea of getting the flavor of a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich is a little off ... because it doesn’t taste like jam. It’s more like a strawberry cake - all sweetness and not tart. The chew is good, not too tough, it’s soft and combines well with the peanut butter center. The peanut butter is smooth and creamy, but lacking a big salty punch or enough texture to differentiate it well from the taffy when it’s chewed together. I like the graininess of peanut butter in candies like Mary Janes.
Overall, it’s not my thing. It’s different ... but I’d be more inclined to go for a honey taffy or maybe even Banana if it was just going to be sweet.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Liddabit Sweets is based in Brooklyn, New York and makes candy bars with a gourmet twist. They’re made by hand with premium ingredients and a bit more flair for decadence than the normal factory churned fare.
They’ve made a name for themselves using locally sourced ingredients and a lot of creativity to the whole genre of candy bars. From the boxes to the innovative combinations, Liddabit feels like more than a handmade version of factory favorites, they’re original from the ground up. I picked up a selection of three from their stall at the New Amsterdam Market at the tip of Manhattan. They’re also sold in stores in New York and if you check their website, at some other gourmet shops around the country. Also, they have a webstore where you can order them to be delivered right to your door.
Liddabit Sweets The Snack’r Candy Bar is their bar that most closely resembles an existing favorite, the Snickers bar made by Mars since 1930. According to the package, This chewy delight features crunchy, roasted peanuts in a golden caramel atop our creamy chocolate nougat, all covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is formidable. It’s sold in a lovely box decorated with white flowers and a diagonal label that shows the premium ingredients (though they do also have gelatin, eggs, dairy, soy and peanuts in them, they’re made in a shared facility with wheat and tree nuts as well). It’s four ounces, almost twice the mass of a Snickers. I already find the Snickers to be too much for one serving, so this was at least three for me.
The bar is lovely, though a little bland to look at, lacking the swirls of milk chocolate on the top, it’s a simple enrobing. The bars are over four inches long, 1.25 wide and one inch high.
The star of this bar is the nougat. It’s really unlike any nougat you’ll find in a commercial bar. Unlike the Mars version of nougat, which is fluffed and grainy, the Liddabit is smooth, creamy and light. There’s a chewy pull to it, not quite marshmallow but a little more whipped than an Italian torrone. There’s a note of cocoa in it, which keeps it from being too sweet. The base of caramel is chewy and salty with few peanuts, but those that I did encounter were large and crunchy. The dark chocolate pulls it all together with a smoky note.
The bar had a real boxed chocolate vibe to it, the peanuts were really the only element that brought this back into the snack territory. I started this review with the bar because it’s by far the best example of an upscale bar I’ve had.
The Pecan Pie Candy Bar is actually a chocolate pecan pie. It starts with a flaky pie crust base, a homemade pecan dulce de leche with a bourbon ganache covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is interesting in that it’s actually more like a Pecan Bar Cookie than a candy bar in some ways. The construction is this: a flaky cookie base with a layer of chocolate ganache and pecans covered in dark chocolate. The result is a decadent treat.
The ganache center is quite soft, so it’s an easy bite even though it’s a pretty tall bar. The pecans are well distributed and form a generous ratio of the center. The ganache is interesting, first because it’s not overly chocolatey ... it’s more cheesecakey. There’s a noticeable tang to it, a little tartness that gives it that baked good note of sour cream instead of whipping cream.
As a candy bar, it’s too much. It’s too decadent to eat in several sittings, mostly because the cookie crust can’t take sitting around after it’s been opened. I enjoyed it, but I don’t see myself buying another one. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well done, but it’s not what I want from a candy bar.
The Humbug is definitely on the unique end of the candy bar spectrum. It features a cocoa sable cookie, a mint chocolate ganache, a white chocolate coating and crushed organic peppermint candies.
The sable cookie base is salty and sandy and crunchy and not at all sweet. It is a bit of a mess though, often creating a lot of crumbs if I didn’t bite it perfectly. The minted chocolate ganache is just the right texture - soft enough to bite through with a quick melt but not greasy or oily. The cocoa flavors are light with the mint shining through for the most part and the white chocolate coating giving it another little hint of sweetness and milky flavors.
Liddabit makes about a dozen different bars, and some are likely seasonal (like the Humbug). I’m interested in anything that utilizes their excellent nougat and plant to try their other bars, such as The King which features peanut butter and banana. The bars are expensive, $8 each, but they’re also huge. That cuts down on the number of different flavors I can do at a time, but now that I found a local shop that carries them in Los Angeles, I can take my time.
As a side note, I can’t help but think of the song Give a Little Bit by Supertramp whenever I hear or read the name Liddabit. That could be just me ... or maybe this video will also get that stuck in your head.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While I was shopping at Whole Foods outside of Philadelphia back in September, I spotted these Nectar Nuggets Peanut Butter Cups. I’d never seen the before, but there was a little tag next to them that said “They’re Back!” so I figured they must be a local favorite.
There were three varieties on the shelf, and I picked up one of each: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Almond Butter Cup.
The name Nectar Nugget didn’t ring any bells for me, but with the little picture of a bee in the corner of the wrapper and the word nectar in the name, I thought perhaps these were honey sweetened. That would definitely be interesting!
The cups are of the same proportions that we’re all accustomed to, two inches wide at the top and only one half an inch high.
The chocolate used for Nectar Nugget is Rainforest Alliance certified, so it’s sustainably grown and audited to assure that no child labor or slaves are used.
It smells a bit grassy, like real peanuts but not dark roasted ones. The chocolate has a nice sheen. There’s a little bit of a cloudy spot on top of the center, but I forgive that with real peanut butter, as the natural oils tend to migrate.
The peanut butter in the Nectar Nuggets is extremely smooth but also quite thick. It has a nice melt, like chocolate or fudge. The salt is light and gives the peanut butter a sort of warm feel as it melts. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but has a much quicker melt than the peanut butter and creates a good backdrop. It’s not particularly milky, but also not very chocolately, just a nice sweet texture.
The package says that it’s Giant Size, which is 1.2 ounces ... a bit bigger than a standard Reese’s, but not what I’d call a King Size. The thick texture of the peanut butter makes it quite filling for me, so much so that I had to space out my review of this set of cups over several days (and I’ve been known to eat a lot of candy in one day).
The ingredients include milk, so it’s not a true dark chocolate (nor vegan) item. Like the other cups, the package says that there are 5 grams of protein in each cup. This makes them rather filling without that too-much-sugar crash later.
The dark chocolate cup is tough, but in a way it’s worth it. The dark chocolate is smooth and buttery, though it starts a little waxy and stiff if it’s cold. The peanut butter feels drier than the milk chocolate version. The melt of the dark chocolate is quick and really fatty, it rolls around on the tongue quite a bit. The cocoa flavors are very deep, nutty and on the bitter side. It brings a whole smoky flavor to the cup.
I was wondering if this actually was a nut butter or a marzipan, but it’s definitely nut butter.
The Almond Butter cup is interesting. Most notably, the nut butter interior is quite salty, especially compared to the sweet and smooth chocolate. It’s 80 mg of sodium (same as the peanut butter ones) which is actually less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like the peanut butter varieties here, the nut butter is a little on the dry side, but not crumbly, quite smooth and fresh. Instead of the roasted and grassy flavors of peanuts, the almond butter is a bit less vivid. Instead, the textures were the focus and the milk chocolate was more noticeable.
It still lacked a pizazz for me, but that’s probably because I was indoctrinated as a child into the peanut butter culture of North America. Even so, since they’re made in a facility with peanut butter, they’re not suitable for those with allergies to peanuts.
They were good and I appreciate the attention to details with the ingredients and the portioning. The ratios are good. They’re not my ideal cup but the fact that they’re ethically sourced and have no artificial preservatives tip my opinion in their favor. So I think I might pick them up again even though they were pricey (I think they were $2.00 each or something close to that) but probably wouldn’t seek them out at a special store. (They contain soy, milk and peanuts or almonds but there’s no statement about gluten.)
Monday, December 10, 2012
Let’s see, if I was going to make my own candy, what would be the most popular ingredients to include? Dark Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Caramel. So it’s not surprising that I bought this gable box of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles.
The box holds about 15 individually wrapped bon bons filled with layers of caramel and peanut butter all covered in dark chocolate.
The front of the box says that there are no artificial flavors or colors, but that doesn’t mean that the ingredients are simple. There are things like malto-dextrin, fractionated palm oil (organic) and tocopherol (Vitamin E). But part of what makes the list so long is also how many of the items are preceded by “organic” such as the caramel (organic milk, organic sugar, etc).
The bronzy twisted mylar wrappers hold the bon bons well. They’re glossy and nicely domed, about 1.125 inches in diameter. They’re about 12 grams each, which is approximately the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle (though not spherical).
The shell yields easily to the soft interior. The burst of caramel comes first, as it’s more of a syrup than a firm chewy variety. The flavor is good, a little hint of burnt sugar but mostly a salted sweetness. The peanut butter base is very smooth with a smoky flavor for the most part and a light burst of salt as well. There’s a bit of chocolate in the filling as well, it looks like maybe a layer between the caramel and peanut butter - probably to keep them from mingling. The melt of it all is less than stellar, the chocolate is quite firm but the peanut butter is soft but slightly waxy (is that what fractionated palm oil is like?). Overall, it just never came together for me as a decadent whole. I’ll probably finish the package at some point but I’ve passed them over plenty of times when looking in my goody drawer over the past week, which is a rating in and of itself.
I still might consider these as a hostess gift, especially if you know the person is inclined towards the elements of caramel, dark chocolate and peanut butter. Even though they’re not as flashy, I prefer Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (which I’ve been eating by the tub-full for extra calories).
There is no ethical sourcing statement for the chocolate on the box, though the organic status of many of the ingredients bodes well for the attention the makers pay to sourcing ingredients. The truffles contain soy, peanuts and milk. They’re made in a facility that also processes wheat, eggs and tree nuts.
See also Rosa’s review at ZOMG! Candy.
Monday, November 5, 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.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Brach’s has been around since 1904 and has been through a lot, especially in the past 20 years. The company, founded by Emil Brach, was bought by American Home Products in 1966. In 1987, Jacobs Suchard, a coffee & confectionery giant, bought Brach’s. By 1990, as Suchard was being swallowed up by the tobacco company of Phillip Morris, the Jacobs part of the company, Klaus Jacobs, retained Brach’s. Then in 2003 it was sold to Callebaut and only a few years later, in 2008, Brach’s was bought by Farley’s and Sathers. Just this year, Farley’s and Sathers agreed to merge with Ferrara Pan to become the Ferrera Candy Company.
Through all of that, the candy brand remained intact and the favorite confections in their repertoire continued. However, manufacturing changes happened, and the formulas, manufacturing techniques and quality was uneven. Farley’s & Sathers has been trying hard to resurrect the comforting and inexpensive brand by improving the quality for the past two years.
The clusters are made with simple ingredients, plain old milk chocolate and some peanuts.
The clusters vary in size, from little lines of three or four nuts to a full clump of a dozen peanuts. The overall flavor is fake vanilla. A soft and comforting sort of sweetness, like an angora sweater.
The chocolate isn’t particularly smooth, nor even noteworthy. As far as it being their best chocolate ever, well, it’s not the worst. It tasted fresh though not creamy. The cocoa notes are bland and the dairy is clean but not particularly buttery. What works here is the touch of salt and the peanuts. They’re fresh, small and crunchy. The ratios are heavier on the chocolate than the nuts, but once it’s chewed, it works well.
I don’t think I’d buy these again. In fact, I’ve had them sitting around for review for quite a while but felt no desire to eat them even though I love chocolate and nuts.They’re friendly candy and certainly well priced, but I’ll stick to the sugar confections Brach’s makes.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
It’s amazing the diversity of candy bars that are still available, many of the most popular bars we eat today have been around for over 70 years. One regional classic that started right near where I live now is the Christopher’s Big Cherry (original review).
The lump of a candy bar was introduced by the Christopher Candy Company, which started in 1887 in Southern California. (That company was later bought out by Ben Meyerson, who made the Sunkist Fruit Gems, who then sold out to Jelly Belly in 2006 who kept the Fruit Gems line but sold off the Christopher’s line to Adams & Brooks, keeping it in Southern California.)
More recently the folks at Adams & Brooks introduced the Christopher’s Big Cherry Dark. The wrapper is a rich brick red instead of the bright pink of the classic bar.
The bar looks terrible. It’s a big, golf ball sized mass. It’s lumpy and irregular but at least smells good, like roasted peanuts and hot cocoa.
The ingredients are, well, barely passable as an edible item, very high in partially hydrogenated oil:
The previous review I did of the classic Christopher’s Big Cherry didn’t have a cross section. So I wanted to be sure this review fully documented the innards of this candy. What does set it apart from all others (Cherry Mash and Twin Bing) is the fact that it uses a whole cherry in the center. That auspicious fact aside, it’s marginally satisfying.
The center is sweet and slightly grainy. The mararschino cherry is sweet and heavily artificially flavored and colored. The mockolate coating is supposed to be “dark” but still has milk products in it and really doesn’t do much for me except that it’s less sweet than the original version. The peanut bits in the mockolate are the shining star here, they’re fresh and crunchy and flavorful. The combination of flavors is odd, the peanuts come across as rather savory, the fudgy mockolate has a vague brownie flavor to it but at least isn’t sweet and the cherry center is a blast in the face of fake cherry and sugar.
It’s certainly not a candy for me. The fakeness on so many levels is disappointing, especially for $1.89 which I could spend on things with real chocolate and real cherries in it. But it’s unique, if that’s still a selling point. If chocolate covered bacon can be all the rage, I suppose this can find a home somewhere.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.