Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’ve seen Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies in stores for years. And for all that time, I not only didn’t know what they were, I really had no curiosity. But as the Candy Blogger, I felt it was my duty to pick them up and give them a try. So I bought some.
I got the package home, opened it up and the devils were hard as rocks. I must have gotten an old bag. So I kind of dismissed it mentally. About a year later a co-worker gave me a bag and I experienced the same issue - they were rock hard.
Brach’s is now owned by Farley’s and Sathers and recently did a complete re-design of their packaging earlier this year. So when I spied the new, bolder purple and pink wrapper at the drug store, I thought this was a signal that the candy was fresh. (The expiration was March 2012.)
I was still puzzled though, and part of it is because I have no awareness at all of this candy. There are plenty of candies, food, novels and movies that I’ve never tried but I’m at least able to identify. There’s nothing remotely familiar about this candy, probably because no one else makes a version of it. The package describes it as:
So the internet and friends will not solve this mystery for me, I had to open a bag for myself. Sure enough, this batch was not rock hard and it certainly did smell like maple and peanuts. So far so good.
The candy outside isn’t some sort of maple flavored white chocolate (though I’d actually love to try real white chocolate made with maple sugar ... someone, could you work on that?). The coating is like a dried fudge or frosting glaze.
The ingredients don’t really explain the candy very well either: Sugar, Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed, Emulsified With Soy Lecithin), Modified Corn Starch, Maple Syrup, Gelatin, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1. Freshness Preserved By TBHQ and Citric Acid.
So what I’m expecting is some sort of maple fudge covered peanut. What I got instead was a muddly wad of confusion. It was soft. I bit into it and it was like a peanut butter cookie, with a strong maple flavor to it. The center was more like a soft dough then a fudge. There’s gelatin in there and oodles of fat (from the peanuts themselves and the various added oils) but it doesn’t taste like it at all. It’s dry.
The other thing is that there is no whole peanut in there. Granted, I only expected there to be one because the shape of the candy seemed rather like a coated peanut. Instead it’s little ground up peanut bits, like a chunky peanut butter. I figure this can’t be right. I’ve gotten a batch that wasn’t cured properly or maybe one where they left out the peanuts inside of all of them. So back to the store.
So this is bag number four. This one also has a far off expiration date, January 2012 and the new package design. The cross section above shows the detail a bit better. There are chunks of peanuts in some sort of soft, not quite crumbly, doughy fudge.
The whole effect is fine, just not quite what I was expecting. For what it is, it’s certainly different. It’s sweet, but the robust peanutty-ness balances that pretty well. There’s a little hint of salt and the maple is a more defined sweetness that’s not as sticky, more woodsy. It’s more like a snack, more like a cookie than a candy.
Just about every other candy I’ve had that’s been made by a major company for at least 50 years has its imitators. For some reason no one else makes Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies
Here’s an old ad from LIFE magazine featuring the Maple Nut Goodies. It also shows Iced Jelly Cones and Chocolate Ripple Nougats, anyone else remember those?
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.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Farley’s and Sathers bought Brach’s, the iconic pick-a-mix candy manufacturer back in 2007 from Barry Callebaut. For a while it seemed that the candy quality was getting worse, not better for the attention. But Brach’s is being rebooted, it appears. They’re getting a new look plus a new focus on their target demographic, women - especially mothers. So they’re focusing on quality and traditional favorites. One of the selling points is that they’re using real milk chocolate. Their newest product is Brach’s Peanut Butter Poppins.
They’re described as creamy peanut butter center coated in 100% milk chocolate.
It’s hard to discuss any chocolate and peanut butter product without referencing the most popular version of the combination, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. There used to be a product called Reese’s Peanut Butter Bites. They weren’t extraordinary, but had the advantage of being a Reese’s product that didn’t have individual wrappers or fluted cups. Those were discontinued and replaced just recently with Reese’s Peanut Butter Minis, which are a molded product.
The new Peanut Butter Poppins are a panned chocolate. It’s a sphere of “peanut butter” covered in milk chocolate and then sealed with a little glaze to make them shiny and keep them from sticking together. I say peanut butter because I don’t think that’s what it actually is. While they’re boasting that they now have their best tasting chocolate ever, have a look at the ingredients for the peanut butter center:
In my world, the first ingredient in peanut butter would be peanuts. This is not a whole peanut product, but instead it’s like juice from concentrate, they took out some of the natural peanut oils and replaced them with palm kernel oil.
They’re really lovely looking morsels. Though they vary a bit in size, they’re all spherical and shiny. Some are the size of a garden pea and a few were the size of a garbanzo. The smell sweet, milky and like roasted peanuts or freshly baked peanut butter cookies.
The waxy glaze on the outside is a little difficult to dissolve and leaves a little film in the mouth. Though they’re advertising this new milk chocolate, it’s not noteworthy. It’s not creamy and not even that chocolatey. It does its job of containing the peanut butter candy center. The center is smooth with little crunchy bits that I can only describe as sweet crunches, not peanuts. It’s like there’s a sugar crust in there that creates these little crystals that give it texture. It took me a long time to figure out if it was in the chocolate shell or the center. The center is very salty, in fact a serving of 25 pieces has 160 mg of salt, a lot for a confection.
The center tastes a lot like peanut butter cookie dough, it’s a well rounded flavor that includes salt, nuts and sweetness along with a rather smooth and cool mouthfeel. I found them extremely salty, but I recognize that my low salt lifestyle makes me more sensitive to those things. That, of course, didn’t stop me from eating the entire 5 ounce bag in two days - what can I say, there was a new Doctor Who on.
Poppins is a trademarked word for Brach’s, so maybe they have other plans for this line of candy. A creamy mint fondant might be a good next step or other fruit creams like strawberry, raspberry and orange and of course coffee.
I think they’re a great idea that’s well executed. Yes, they’re salty and no the chocolate is not fantastic, but I’d venture to say that it’s better than the stuff on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups these days. I’m looking forward to finding their Malted Milk Balls and seeing if they’ve successfully resurrected the classic real milk chocolate and crunchy malt center.
Monday, April 25, 2011
P-Nuttles are a pure comfort candy. I associate them with vending machines and truck stops, and I can see why they’d be a favorite snack for both situations. They’re loaded with satisfying protein from the peanuts and a sweet crunch from the toffee coating. Throw in a little salt and it’s has a bit of a savory kick that makes it as much a snack food as a candy.
Peanuts that are individually covered in toffee are far easier to eat then barks or brittles, so I also congratulate Adams & Brooks on solving that dispensing issue.
I saw this new flavor announced last year at the Sweets and Snacks Expo and finally found it at my neighborhood Walgreen’s: P-Nuttles plus Coconut.
The concept is pretty simple, fresh roasted peanuts are coated in a coconut toffee. In addition to the toffee peanuts, a few coconut jelly beans are also thrown into the mix.
The peanuts are not large, but most are fresh and tasty. I ate about half of the bag and found only one bad nut. (It’s never fun, but this is the hazard with using natural ingredients.) The toffee coating varies, some had barely a sheen on them, but others a hefty shell. The flavor is sweet with a light touch of butter. The saltiness varies widely, as does the coconut flavor. Some were quite tropical tasting and others were very salty. I rather liked the variation. The jelly beans are small and pack a pretty good coconut zap. They’re sweet and chewy, though not terribly soft.
I didn’t get any coconut texture in any of this, which I quite enjoy. But the tropical coconut notes were a welcome addition to a rather comforting but bland peanut and toffee experience. I didn’t think I’d care of mixing jelly beans, a decidedly non-organic sort of texture product, with the more artisan peanuts covered in toffee. However, it worked very well. The smooth and consistent flavor of the jelly beans was a welcome sort of dependability when contrasting the varying peanuts and their cloaks of toffee.
Adams Brooks will be introducing more twists on the classic P-Nuttles later this year: P-Nuttles Peanuts Smokey Style and P-Nuttles Peanuts Chili*Lime.
The jelly beans contain confectioners glaze, so this combination is not vegetarian.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Wonka public relations folks sent me this box of their Wonka Exceptionals Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Eggs to review. The box is springy, and I’ll say it veers off towards the feminine in a whimsy sort of way. (The Dove chocolate line’s packaging is more towards elegant feminine sophistication.) But I can also see kids taking a liking to it for the brilliant purple and icons on the packages of flowers, vines and butterflies. They also come in another variety, Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall which I also have a sample of.
The box holds five milk chocolate eggs with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie and crunchy peanuts. Wonka also says that they’re made with natural ingredients, but doesn’t mention on the front that they’re also made with not-so-natural ingredients which include, in descending level of appearance, soy lecithin (I’m guessing GMO), modified cornstarch and high fructose corn sweetener (I never see that used in chocolate, but I do see it quite often in cookies and cereal products so I’m assuming it’s an ingredient in one of the inclusions).
My eggs were a little worse for their trek in the mail. I find that stuff that’s shipped to me actually ends up in worse condition than items I pick up in the stores, so I expect that this is a worst case scenario.
Since the portion is less than an ounce, the calorie count is much lower than some other “full serving” chocolate eggs. Both versions are 140 calories, and for a candy so high in fat, that’s a satisfying size. The Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate is already available in large bars or individually wrapped pieces. I reviewed them when they first came out last year. The combination of ingredients is interesting and definitely unique on the market at the moment.
The construction is simple, a 2.5” long and 1.5” wide egg is molded with mixed in items: crumbled cookies, toffee pieces and little bits of peanuts.
It smells green and nutty and a little milky. The crunch of the chocolate is good, it’s a little soft and immediately has a note of cinnamon and graham crackers. The toffee bits taste a little salty and the peanuts are few and far between but taste like they’re deeply roasted. The chocolate is mild and pleasant, it reminds me more of Cadbury than Nestle. It’s very sweet and at least the cookie bits provide a little relief from that.
It’s not that I loved this, but it’s so much better than Nestle’s other efforts like the Butterfinger Egg, it’s a wonder how they can continue making such waxy, poorly flavored chocolate when we now have proof that they know the difference.
I’m happy to report that there are fewer not-so-natural ingredients in this variety, just the soy lecithin.
White chocolate maybe the unofficial chocolate style of Easter and I was pleased to see that the white chocolate used here is the real cocoa butter variety.
The white and milk chocolate has a similar smooth texture, not quite Dove smooth, but smoother than other Nestle products. It’s quite sweet but has a milky taste and definite vanilla note to it.
The individually wrapped foil pieces are more consistently balanced between the milk and dark chocolate. I only had one sample of this so I can’t say it’s the same for all of them, but I felt there was too much milk chocolate and not enough white. Sometimes I find that white chocolate can taste a little off quickly, a little stale or rancid. In this case it just didn’t taste fresh to me, but I admit that it was stored with other flavored candies from Wonka, which might have contaminated it.
I like the shape, I like how thick it is and especially when there are chunks or layers in it, how it provides a nice cross section of flavors. The packaging isn’t as fun as the foil wrapped pieces, which I liked a little better, the colors on those are just as appropriate for Easter anyway.
It’s nice to see something a little different for Easter baskets or just snacking. These didn’t wow me with their ingenuity, but the quality difference from the earlier efforts from Wonka that were the Golden Creme Egg means that they’re winners just for showing up.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I picked up the Cadbury Wunderbar at a grocery store. I’ve actually seen them in the United States, heck, I’ve even bought them before, but they were always kind of melted and broken. This one looked lovely and in good condition. Wunderbar is a great name for a candy bar, it works on a couple of levels. First, it’s unique and a bit of a play on words because it sounds like Wonder Bar. But the German word Wunderbar (pronounce that w like a v) means Marvelous!
The front of the package doesn’t do much to illuminate what’s inside though. It just calls it A peanut butter caramel experience. The back, in teensy print, says crispy peanut bar with caramel and cocoa containing coating. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a bar with a less appealing description, probably because it ends with some sort of comedic euphemism for mockolate (because of the alliteration of the K sounds).
I don’t want to think too much about this bar. It’s a candy bar and it’s supposed to be transiently pleasing. So I’m prepared for just that.
The coating was pretty good for mockolate, a little soft but not at all waxy. Smooth enough to not be grainy but not so great at the melt in your mouth creaminess. The flavor was okay, more milky than chocolatey but mostly it tasted like peanuts.
The center of the bar was like someone had chopped up the center of Butterfinger bar and mixed it in with some Chex cereal then reformed it into a log and coated it. That’s really not a bad idea and it does work. There’s a bit of a softer caramel in there as well, that keeps it all soft and crumbly. There are little shards of peanut butter toffee stuff, too.
I wanted more peanut flavor, but it wasn’t overly sweet and had a little hint of salt as well.
Really it just left me wanting a Clark Bar. But I admire it for not being another Clark/Butterfinger/Fifth Avenue knock-off. It’s more munchable and certainly less messy. It’s also huge, at 1.9 ounces and about six inches long. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it marvelous, since it would be better with real chocolate. So I’ll just call it Tempting (6 out of 10).
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Christopher’s Good News bar is something of a mystery to me. It’s currently made locally in Los Angeles by Adams-Brooks but before that it was created back in the late thirties by Ben Myerson for his newly founded Ben Myerson Candy Company. In 1955 the Ben Myerson Candy Company acquired Christopher’s Candy which was already a venerable confectioner in Southern California since 1887. In 2006 Ben Myerson was bought up by Jelly Belly, who quickly gobbled up the Sunkist Fruit Gems brand and spun off the chocolate products like the Good News bar and Christopher’s Big Cherry to Adams-Brooks.
The bars were extremely popular as a gift parents would hand out to friends heralding the birth of their baby. The package design to this day looks like a newspaper masthead and my bar even had a little sticker that said “it’s a girl”. But the curious thing about this bar was instead of going national, as other brands within Ben Myerson’s company did, the Good News bar became hyper-regional. In fact, the only place it’s still sold widely is in Hawaii. I happened to find my bar at Marukai Market in Torrance, CA which is a Japanese grocery store that also carries a lot of Hawaiian favorites (as many Southern California Japanese folks either immigrated through Hawaii or have relatives there).
The bar’s description is rich milk chocolate, peanuts, caramel. What the description doesn’t mention is that there’s also crisped rice in there. Looking at all that, you can see that it’s actually a unique bar, there are no other nationally distributed bars that match this element combination.
The bar is beautifully enrobed in a rippled, dark looking milk chocolate. The center is a combination of caramel, peanuts and crisped rice. The ingredients are wholesome and easy to understand and probably the worse thing on the list is a little bit of hydrogenated cottonseed oil towards the end.
The chew is firm and light with a good balance of crisped rice. There weren’t that many peanuts in my bar, enough to impart a nutty flavor but the cereal flavors of the crisped rice definitely won out. The caramel had a milky flavor that was far stronger than the chocolate, which was passable and well-tempered. I was afraid the bar would be messy to eat, as sometimes chocolate coatings flake off, but this was easy to bite even slice.
I’m not sure why these bars aren’t more popular. The elements are similar to a 100 Grand but with a few peanuts tossed in (and an extra quarter ounce for the same price).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.