Friday, December 30, 2011
I’ve been having a ridiculous time with these Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. They’re not new, I believe they’ve been around for a few years in the tubs. But for some reason the masterminds of impulse purchases at Trader Joe’s headquarters decided to change the packaging.
For the past two months these little 3.5 ounce bags of the peanut butter cups have been priced at 99 cents and featured in barrels by the registers in all the Trader Joe’s I’ve been in. It’s hard to resist the sub-buck price for something that’s such a good value. About half the price of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup per ounce.
Not only have I fallen prey, so has everyone else in my office. So once my little supply (I’ll buy two or three bags and put them in a jar on my desk) has dwindled, someone else will come by and plop another bag on my desk to replenish.
Inside the simple packet are eight miniature sized dark chocolate peanut butter cups in foil. Each weighs about 12 grams (.42 ounces) and has 60 calories. The ingredients are decent, no partially hydrogenated fats in there. But there are milk products (milk fat in the chocolate and lactose in the peanut butter filling) so it’s not vegan and no good for those with dairy sensitivities.
The cups are classic, they come in little fluted paper cups and pull away easily from the candy. While some peanut butter cups will have leakage issues around the sides, the peanut butter was always completely enveloped in chocolate with every one I ate.
The chocolate is semi sweet (50% cacao), not terribly dark but still with a strong bitter note to it. It’s smooth and rather fatty, so it stands up well to the fats of the peanut butter center.
The peanut butter center is rather sweet and a bit on the fudgy side. It’s smoother than most, but not silken or whipped. It’s sweet but nutty, the roasting gives the peanuts a bit of a bitter and woodsy note to them that stands up to the dark chocolate. The peanut density though is a little thin, it was more like I was eating a peanut butter frosting than actual peanut butter. There’s a hint of salt in there. They’re Kosher but may contain traces of tree nuts, eggs and wheat (so they’re not gluten free).
It’s a good iteration of the peanut butter cup, though not my favorite treatment for the peanut butter center. I can’t argue with the price or the portioning. I don’t know if I’m going to pick them up in the big tub, even though it’s probably a better price per ounce, but I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s for their inspired stealth marketing on this one.
Monday, December 5, 2011
R.M. Palmer makes charming and cheap candy for the holidays. Their Christmas candies are never as appealing as their Easter goods but I was intrigued by their new RM Palmer Giant 1/4 Peanut Butter Cup.
Giant candy is pretty common as a holiday gift, especially as a stocking stuffer or Secret Santa item. This one isn’t quite as amazing as the Snickers Slice n’ Share or 1 Lb Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but it’s certainly affordable at only $1.00.
The package is simple. There were two designs, the red wrapper I picked out features an elf on a snowboard. There’s a green version that had a Santa on it.
The packaging is spare, it’s just a plastic sleeve, there’s no cardboard tray or even a fluted cup. However, this was more than sufficient, my cup came out the wrapper looking nearly flawless.
Like nearly all R.M. Palmer candies, this is a very nicely made product. The mold is well designed and attractive. The large cup has some attractive design details, including a little inset bevel and texture on the bottom of cup. The fluting is crisp and the mockolate coating is shiny.
The cup is three and a half inches in diameter and just a smidge over a half an inch thick. The package says that it’s four servings, which would be one ounce each. It’d be pretty easy to divide this up, it cuts easily with even a butter knife. However, one ounce is a rather small portion for candy. The typical is about 1.5 (which is what a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are).
The first ingredient on the list is sugar, which I fully expected. The second is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil made from palm kernel and/or palm oil. It’s pretty widely known now that partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. And trans fats need to be reported on the nutrition facts panel. However, if it’s less than a half a gram of trans fat, it can be listed as zero. So it’s entirely possible that a “truer serving size” of 1.5 ounces would have a measurable amount of trans fat. Or it could be that RM Palmer figured that people could quarter things easily but probably couldn’t cut them into 3/8 as easily. (Well, you’d just cut it into 8 pieces and take a serving of three of those, but I don’t think they’d be structurally sound.)
The cup smells good, like sweet peanut butter. The bite is soft and the peanut butter is smooth. It’s an odd cup, I was fully willing to hate it based on the ingredients. However, the peanut butter center is really good. It’s soft but not greasy, smooth but not quite silky. There’s a slight coolness to both the mockolate and the peanut butter on the tongue. The flavor of the peanut butter center is sweet, not quite as salty or crumbly/dry as a Reese’s, it’s more like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
For kids or the not-too-picky, it’s a fun little treat. It’s far from gourmet, but it fits in as affordable and over-the-top little gift.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
At Christmas one of the great gifts is an excessive version of something mundane but much-loved. For candy this means colossal proportions. Oh sure, you could just get a wholesale sized bag of M&Ms or Skittles. But there’s something special about a version that’s substantially larger than the norm: Giant Hershey’s Kisses, Giant Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Giant Candy Canes and Giant Gummi Bears.
Mars is in the game this year with their Snickers Slice n’ Share bar. This year it’s exclusive to CVS stores. I found mine after going to several stores and it was even on sale for $7.99, regular price is $9.99.
The Snickers Slice ‘n Share is 16 ounces, while a standard Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces (so 8 times bigger). It’s also 9 times the price. The best value is probably to buy the snack size, which are about $1.25 for eight little bars totally 5 ounces - which comes out to $4.00 a pound instead of $7.99 a pound. But that’s simply not magnificent enough for gifting or wowing your guests. (See this 1925 ad for Oh Henry! that features the suggestion to slice and serve.)
The bar is protected in a paperboard tray and came out looking pretty good. It’s 9.5 inches long, about one inch high and 2.5” wide. A standard Snickers is only 1” wide.
There’s simply no way to depict how massive this thing is with photos because it’s dense and heavy. Honestly, I expected one pound of candy to have a bit more volume, but Snickers are certainly compact.
Like the old advertising slogan, this Snickers is packed with peanuts. The caramel envelops them completely and they’re jam packed in there all the way through the bar. The caramel and nougat layers are completely distinct and the chocolate is very thick, especially on the sides and the ripple on the top. It does flake off easily, but usually in big chunks that are easy to pick up and pop in your mouth.
The serving size suggested is a 1 inch slice (which is about 1.75 ounces - less than the 2.07 ounce regular bar). I found that to be a bit too thick and unwieldy, so I usually went for something about a 1/2 inch slice. It slices quite easily without falling apart, as long as you have a good, wide knife. A butter knife or steak knife are too small and narrow. A chef’s knife or even a clever does a much better job. Anything less than a half an inch though and the piece will not hold together well.
Also, I found that cutting straight down, with even pressure (chopping) was better than trying to angle it. The pieces came out cleaner and with less chocolate loss.
I loved the bar. I actually think I enjoyed it more than any other Snickers I’ve had in years. The peanuts were fresh, the caramel was thick, distinct and chewy plus the nougat was soft, slightly salty with a nice peanut butter toffee flavor. The layers are much more defined and folks who like to eat particular parts separately will have a great time.
Giant candy has always struck me as the kind of gift a kid would give to a parent or other relative. Not that I’d complain if my niece or nephew came me a giant version of a beloved candy. It’s a way to make a favorite special. But they’re not for everyday consumption. The specialness of the price assures that. But I expect because it’s under $10, it should find its way into many stockings this year, or because of its size, it will be adjacent to the stocking ... and featured heavily on early nights of Hanukkah.
The bar has all the same ingredients as the smaller versions. It’s hard to compare the nutritional value because of the difference in serving sizes, but the calories per ounce are greater for the Slice n’ Share than the regular size, so I’m going to guess that there’s more chocolate per bite on the small one since that’s where the densest calories are.
At a certain point something so large that it requires implements ceases to be candy. Candy is ready to eat, requires no knives or assembly.
The package warns that there are traces of tree nuts and wheat, plus it contains eggs, soy, peanuts and milk. Mars does not use fair trade or certified ethically traded chocolate for this product (though they’re working on it - their Maltesers malted milk balls will be Fair Trade next year in the UK).
UPDATE 12/5/2012: Snickers Slice n Share are back in stores for the holidays. They’re found in a much wider array of stores, I’ve seen them at Target, CVS, IT’SUGAR and a few others as well as on internet stores. Discount chains usually have them for $10-12, while the other stores like IT’SUGAR have them for about $20.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.