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).
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Today I’ve decided these are a candy, even though they’re not usually placed in the candy aisle. (Some stores keep them with the pretzels & chips, some near the nuts and others in with the candy.)
They’re called Snyder’s of Hanover Peanut Butter Pretzel Sandwich Dips. They say they’re made with real peanut butter (which I assumed by the fact that they’re called peanut butter pretzel sandwiches, but apparently it needed to be pointed out as a feature) and dipped in Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (which I don’t necessarily consider a feature unless the alternative is R.M. Palmer’s or Nestle’s mockolate).
They look like tiny chocolate dipped Oreos. They’re about an inch and a quarter around and nicely domed with a thick layer of milk chocolate.
The pretzels are little wheels with a grid pattern to them. Between two of these tiny pretzels is a bit of peanut butter cream. Then the whole sandwich is dipped in milk chocolate. The pieces are a bit scuffed up from tumbling around in the bag, but all were whole, so they hold up well.
The pretzels are crisp and though tiny, pack a lot of crunch. The peanut butter center isn’t very strong but at least says peanut butter upon introduction. There’s not a lot of peanut butter texture because there’s so much of the sweet milk chocolate coating. The chocolate is okay, it seals the pretzels well, which keeps them fresh, but doesn’t really have much of a chocolate flavor contribution. The texture is creamy and sweet but not too grainy.
Overall the snacks are very munchable, they’re filling but they don’t stick to the ribs like some peanut butter candies can. I found that I could eat lots of them, but I never quite enjoyed them. I wanted more crunch, more salt, more peanut butter and better chocolate. None of these wants kept me from finishing the bag, naturally. I know there are better versions of this product out there, but this would probably do in a pinch. Great for watching a movie or sharing with others during a football game. (Technically, all it needs is a little bit of caramel and some crushed peanuts and this would be the original version of the Take 5 Bar - which now features mockolate.)
Snyder’s makes several versions of the dips. Some are just straight chocolate dipped pretzels in Milk Chocolate and Special Dark. They also, supposedly, introduced a York Peppermint Pattie version earlier this year, but I still haven’t seen them in stores. To be honest, it sounds kind of bad, but I’m still fascinated with the idea of mixing pretzels, salt, minty fondant and dark chocolate.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
One of the new introductions that I saw on the shelves isn’t seasonal. It’s called Trader Joe’s Soft Peanut Brittle. At first I didn’t even know what that meant. Soft peanut brittle? Is it more like toffee, which means more butter than the traditionally less fatty brittle? The package simply says covered in milk chocolate, a flaky, crispy peanutty treat. The image looks like little mini bars of peanut brittle, but it looks like the peanuts are crushed instead of whole. So maybe that’s what makes it soft.
After opening the package and biting into one, I know what this is, and it isn’t “soft peanut brittle.”
They’re like Butterfinger or Clark Bars. Flaky layers of peanut butter crunch. It’s all covered in chocolate and striped with some darker chocolate.
I have nothing against Clark Bars (I love the new ones) but that’s not what I was expecting here.
The milk chocolate coating is a bit scuffed on all of them. The stand up pouch is economical, it holds a half a pound, but the bars aren’t well protected. Each little bar is about an inch and a quarter long and three quarters of an inch wide. It’s one big bite or two small ones.
The crispy layers are soft and have an kind of melt that’s like halva and a bit like cotton candy, with spindly & spiky shards of hard candy infused with the flavor of peanut butter. It’s a little sweet, a little salty and a lot nutty. There’s no molasses in there, which often helps to support the deep roasted flavors of the nuts and the woodsy notes of the chocolate. They’re quite munchable, definitely something I’d like to have while watching a movie.
The price is decent, especially because this version uses no artificial colors or flavors and has a real chocolate coating (unlike Butterfinger or Fifth Avenue). But Clark Bars are now all natural and come in milk or dark chocolate ... so I’m kind of torn. The back of the package suggests using it in desserts, like chopping it up and crumbling it on top of a cake or ice cream. No wrappers makes that infinitely simpler. But no wrappers also encourages endless munching. So just remember, you’ll have to control yourself once you open the bag (which has a zipper top).
The package says that they’re gluten free and Kosher.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.
They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:
I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.
Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.
I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.
They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.
What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.
The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).
The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)
Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:
* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products
I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.
The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.
I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!
I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.
I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.
My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.
On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.
The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.
My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.
I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.
Monday, October 25, 2010
So around Christmas sometimes I’ll pick up the Butterfinger Jingles, which are bells made of milk chocolate with Butterfinger crunch pieces. It’s been a while though, so when I saw these Nestle Butterfinger Pumpkins I thought it was great that I could pick up a modestly sized version instead of a big bag. They were on sale, two for a dollar but they also come in a tray of 6 which seemed to be priced higher per piece at Target.
The chocolate disk is nicely designed and molded. I liked the dimensionality of it and the fanciful face that incorporated not only the carving but the strong ribs of the pumpkin shape. It smelled pretty appealing too, like chocolate and roasted peanuts with a touch of toffee. So far so good.
After that first bite pictured there, I was tempted to spit this out. It was waxy and sweet with no chocolate flavor at all. But I thought maybe I was spoiled because I was also photographing some Ritter Sport at the same time (which naturally required a few bites as well). So I tucked away the rest and give it a few days.
With the second bite I still thought it was a mixture of greasy and waxy chocolate, but the cocoa flavors came through a little stronger. There’s a mix of toasted peanut flavors and a hint of bitterness along with the barely passable chocolate. The chips of the Butterfinger center save this candy from being completely inedible. They’re a little salty and have a mixture of molasses and peanut butter flavors.
While I’ve been finding that Wonka candies have been improving in quality, this Butterfinger Pumpkin doesn’t taste as good as the Jingles I remember. In fact, it’s pretty terrible and makes me wish I could find the Clark Wicked Mix in my area.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Earlier this year I reviewed the resurrection of the Clark Bar from its zombie status as a neglected and poor quality peanut butter crunch bar. The extension of that is that Necco is also making the bars in snack size and are bringing back their Clark Bar Wicked Mix for Halloween in their new and improved recipes.
Necco sent this bag to me a few months back as I’ve had particular trouble finding Necco products for the Halloween. It’s pretty big and perfect for houses that get a lot of kids; it holds 24 ounces (about 68 pieces). The mix is Real Milk Chocolate Clark Bar, Dark Chocolate Clark and the very hard to find Coconut Clark.
The little bars are easy to distinguish and seemed to be properly randomized in my bag so that I had nearly equal amounts of each. Each piece is about .35 ounces, barely two bites (45 calories).
The classic Milk Chocolate Clark Bar fun size is in an easy to spot red wrapper. I loved them, I ate them. They were flaky and crispy with a good balance of peanut flavor, molasses and creamy sweet milk chocolate. The only weird thing I noticed was a smoke flavor in all the milk chocolate ones; I didn’t like it. I also noticed this with some of my full size bars earlier this summer and I can’t explain it.
For a while the Clark Dark was the one I was picking out of the mix. The bittersweet note of the chocolate coating played well with the toffee notes of the molasses. They seemed crispier for the most part (I know that all depends on how the folds are thick or thin).
The new part of the mix for me was the Clark Coconut. This is the weird part. Clark, when it was based in Pittsburgh, PA also used to make a coconut coated version of their bar called Zagnut. That’s been made by Hershey’s since 1996. They’re pretty hard to find here on the West Coast, so I usually go with a Chick-O-Stick, which is similar but doesn’t have that white chocolatey sweet coating that holds the coconut on.
The Clark Coconut is, to the best of my recollection, the Zagnut. The center is the classic Clark bar but the coating on the outside is a thin cream like a white chocolate but a little more caramel flavored. The little bits of coated and crispy coconut stick to that. You’d think that it’d be messy, but the coconut stays put. The coconut and peanut butter mixture is good. The coconut brings a tropical creamy nutty note and the peanut butter has that earthy, roasted legume note that really fills me up.
I don’t know if the Clark name has the recognition needed to impress Trick-or-Treaters but I’m pretty sure parents would be happy to relieve their kids of this fringe looking candy bar. It’s a classic and this mix of variations hits the spot. The packaging is spare and does a good job of keeping the little bars fresh and design is sharp and clear.
The candy contains all sorts of allergens: soy, milk, peanuts, wheat and barley. Also processed on equipment with eggs and tree nuts. No Kosher status mentioned. Though the large Clark Bar and Clark Dark are considered all natural, this is not (I’m guessing there’s some artificial flavors in the Coconut, and BHA is added as a preservative). That’s to bad, because an all natural option for Halloween from a major candy maker would be quite a find. (I guess you can always give out the full size ones!)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.