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).
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.