Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Next month Mars is introducing a new Snickers variant, the Snickers Crisper. The new bar boasts multiple textures and “delivers on [Snickers] satisfaction pledge with the chew of caramel and the crunchy crispiness of rice and peanuts.”
Like the recent Snickers Peanut Butter Squared that came out five years ago, these are actually two squares in one package instead of a single bar.
The new bar is supposed to be in response to consumers wanting healthier options. I’m not sure what would make this bar healthier than a regular Snickers, though this one has crisped rice in it, instead of nougat and is actually 12 grams lighter, which means fewer calories per serving.
Each square is about 1.25 inches on each side. They’re about two or three bites.
The bar smells well roasted and a bit like toffee. The bite is very soft, the caramel on top has a lot of give to it, but not much pull. The chew has a nice texture, with the peanut butter coated crisped rice as a highlight. It’s quite sweet though there’s also a hint of salt. I don’t get much more peanut butter or sort of thick satisfaction that I find in a regular Snickers. I do enjoy the malty notes of the rice though as well as the few peanut scattered about. I think I just wanted more peanut butter and less sweetness.
About ten years ago there was another bar called the Snickers Cruncher, which was similar: it was a peanut butter coated crisped rice bar with caramel coated in chocolate. It was all one bar and actually really good. When they disappeared in the United States, I was still able to find them in Europe (and a few sellers on eBay would import them).
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
It’s been a while since Mars has done something new with the Snickers bar. Sure, they miniaturized it, and brought back the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar, but nothing innovative has come along in a few years.
Mars announced last month that they’re releasing a new limited edition bar in November nationwide. It’s called SNICKERS Mixed Nuts Bar. They bill it as a satisfying mix of peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts combined with SNICKERS® Brand caramel and nougat, all coated with creamy milk chocolate.
Mars sent me some samples of their new candy bars, so I thought I’d give a preview. I think it’s an exciting concept to include so many different kinds of nuts in one bar.
This is a strange bar, because of its mixed status there’s not quite enough of any of its elements. It smells a bit like peanuts, but not as peanutty as a regular Snickers. The nougat is salty and the caramel chewy, all the nuts are crunchy ... the almonds are especially bold and I do recall at least two hazelnuts. If I sound disjointed, that’s the bar right there. It’s a stop and a start, I kind of got going with a nice almond and then there were some peanuts. I’m more mellow than Snickers, more bold than Snickers Almond.
In addition to the milk, eggs, soy, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts, the bars may also contain traces of other tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Like most Brach’s products, the package is vague about the product once you get past the name. There’s a list of ingredients, but other than that, I was kind of left to guess what was in my mix.
So, what do we have? Pretty much what the name says. There’s an assortment of two different shapes of chocolate covered nuts ... peanuts and almonds. Then there are some gumdrop looking things that are caramels and some oblong bits that are chocolate covered brittle.
The whole mix smells sweet, a little like peanuts and cocoa. The sweetness has a fake vanilla note to it that isn’t very encouraging, though the appearance of the mix is pretty attractive. The panning is good, everything is shiny and smooth.
Milk Chocolate Peanuts are satisfying. There’s not a lot of chocolate, but far better than Nestle’s Goobers. There’s a little hint of salt to make these much more of a snack than a sweet.
Dark Chocolate Peanuts also have a hint of salt and a noticeable bitterness to the chocolate which again keeps the whole mix from getting to sticky sweet.
Milk Chocolate Caramels were lackluster. The texture was excellent, the caramel was chewy but not too stiff and it had a smooth consistency. However, it lacked actual caramel flavor and didn’t offset the milk chocolate coating much.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Brittle are easy to spot. They’re large and have a thick coating of chocolate. The brittle center may be big, but it crunches easily. The nutty flavor is not front and center, this piece is more about the textures of the crushed nuts, the dark chocolate and the sugary brittle. The nut bits are quite small, so it’s almost like the sesame brittle found in Kosher delis.
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds are one of the larger pieces, though some are small enough to be mistaken for peanuts. The almonds have a light blanching, they’re not overly roasted. They’re crunchy and hold up well to the rather sweet dark chocolate.
This mix takes a lot of guess work out of what can be candy roulette. I liked all the pieces and didn’t really long for anything else that wasn’t in here. I thought the peanuts were great, and it all looked good in a little bowl. I certainly preferred it to the actual Bridge Mix that Brach’s sells.
The product contains milk, peanuts, almonds and soy and is made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, eggs and wheat.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Russell Stover is best known at Easter for their little one ounce eggs that come in over a dozen varieties from the classic strawberry creme to the trendy wedding cake and cookie dough. One of the other items that’s a little harder to find are Russell Stover’s version of Cadbury Creme Eggs that come in chocolate creme and caramel (review).
One of the newer varieties, or at least to me, is the Russell Stover Peanut Butter Egg. Russell Stover first introduced their little foil wrapped eggs in 2008, they came in some interesting varieties like Marshmallow & Caramel and Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Creme. I picked mine up on sale at 2 for 99 cents. The plain blue foil wrapping doesn’t say much other than the fact that it’s peanut butter in milk chocolate.
The egg is 1.2 ounces and is molded to be completely ovoid, not one of those flat-bottomed enrobed eggs. The design on the shell is very simple, with just a few embellishments.
Oddly enough, Russell Stover uses this same mold throughout the year. They have some sports themed hollow chocolates they sell, including a football, which makes lots of sense when covered in a brown texture-look foil. The odder part of that set of chocolates though is that the same shape is used for baseballs, soccer balls and basketballs.
The filling is not a peanut butter, as I mentioned, instead, it’s more like a peanut butter caramel frosting. The texture is smooth, but not quite chewy like a caramel. If you gave me a cupcake with this as the icing, I’d be pretty happy. The milk chocolate is very sweet, but goes well with the filling. The peanut butter flavor is muted by the sugary sauce its within, but it still works.
It’s not quite my thing, but it stands as unique take on this candy genre. I actually might buy these again and would probably include them in an Easter basket for kids if I put something together this year.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
You can download the file directly: MP3.
Here’s a quick review to go with the podcast.
In preparation for the episode, I picked up the 99 Cent Only Store version of the popular Mars candy bar array. The cross sections are shown in the image above. They’re all packaged by Momentum Brands in Turkey. Though the wrappers said that they were milk chocolate covered candy bars, the milk chocolate actually contained dairy whey, which is considered a filler in the United States and cannot be labeled chocolate here. In general whey is used in place of extra sugar in cheaper milk chocolate. Think about it, if you want to make an inexpensive chocolate, you’re going to use as little of the most expensive ingredient as you can. So the cacao content (not even listed) is probably not more than 20%. Then there’s milk, which is usually milk fat and milk powder (which includes both the milk proteins and milk fats) ...and sugar. Too much sugar and the chocolate is unappealing and too much milk fat and the chocolate won’t set. So, milk protein does nicely as a filler that has a slightly malty flavor but is generally benign.
Choco Coco (Bounty) are like Almond Joy without the almonds. The coconut was very firm, but thankfully not that sweet. The milk chocolate has an odd malty flavor to it and a sort of “vitamin” note. Overall, satisfying for a cheap candy ... there were three little bars in the package for 60 cents.
Choco Duo (Twix) - This was a smaller package instead of the king size versions of the others. The sticks smelled malty and sweet. The biscuit base was very hard with a sort of graham cracker or digestive note to it, instead of the exceptionally bland version in the US Twix. The caramel was quite stiff but ultimately chewy ... much chewier than a Twix. The texture of the whole was more within my preferences than actual Twix. But it still isn’t in my arena of candy bars.
Coco Nut (Snickers) were also a king sized package that had two not-quite-full-sized bars. Mine were bloomed (all others were shiny) and I noticed right away that they’re much flatter than Snickers. The ratios are completely off and the peanuts taste foreign, as if they’re a different variety from the US bars. It’s not very peanutty, the caramel and nougat had the same chew ... it was fine for eating, but did not scratch the same itch that a fresh Snickers does.
Coco Nougat (Milky Way) is not at all like a Milky Way. This is actually more like the Milk Munch (also make in Turkey) that I had years ago. Very malty, a little too stiff and not fluffy enough.
I’ll stick to paying full boat for my Mars family of bars, especially when for a similar price, the 99 Cent Only Store sells those snack package with 6 or 8 little bars for a dollar anyway.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The newest trend, though, is unwrapped mini items, so Nestle has obliged with their 2015 version called Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups Minis.
I picked up a stand-up bag that holds a half a pound, but they also come in a king-size sharing bag.
The bag is appealing and easy to spot on the shelf. There are a lot of options on the morszelization front these days, with M&Ms as well as all the new unwrapped mini versions of things.
The design of the little unwrapped cups is well done. They’re fluted and have a rounded square top and circular bottom. However, they suffer from the same problem all of these unwrapped items in a bag do ... they get scuffed up. So they come out looking a little shabby, the chocolate dust often gives the appearance of bloom.
The cups are 3/4 of an inch across and about 1/2 of an inch high and each weighs about 4.5 grams (.16 ounces). The smell is like fake butter, the whole bag was a bit like kettle corn.
A serving is 9 pieces and has 220 calories. I can’t say for sure, but it feels like there’s a larger proportion of chocolate to the filling compared to the regular cups, but the ingredients and nutritional panel are virtually the same.
The chocolate is sweet, has a fudgy melt and is generally smooth on the tongue. The filling is a mix of small crunchy shards of Butterfinger center and a creamed peanut butter filling. It’s a nice texture with a good balance between sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy. The chocolate boost from the coating is nonexistent, I got more milk flavors from it than anything.
Overall, this version of the cup relies too much on the chocolate, a problem I also recognized with the Reese’s Minis as well. , It’s a shame that Nestle makes such lackluster chocolate, but at least this product is supposed to be about the other flavors and textures. They’re probably great mixed in with pretzels, nuts and popcorn as a snack mix. But they’re still probably too big to use as an ice cream topping. I don’t plan on buying them again, as the proportions for this size are just off for me and the chocolate is so bad.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
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