Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I don’t know if this bar is sold at this little candy shop at the Pittsburgh airport because it’s called Sky Bar or because they carry a lot of other hard to find nostalgia candies (they didn’t have Valomilks, but they did have Cow Tales). I’d seen these when I was growing up, but was never really interested in them, as I’d always assumed that they were the candy bar version of Whitman’s Samplers.
It turns out that it’s not far off from that. The bar is undeniably pretty. Four joined pieces of candy, with pretty domed tops, fluting up the sides and the Necco logo on top. Unlike Necco wafers, where you never know what you’ll get in the roll, the Sky Bar is consistent. The far left piece (if you set your bar like the package shows you) is caramel. Not a chewy caramel, it’s a sweet, sticky concoction with a nice salty hint and good carmelized sugar notes. The next one over is by far the least interesting to me, the vanilla cream. Slightly light, very sweet and rather bland, it simply brings out the rather cardboard notes in the milk chocolate. After that is peanut which I think is their masterpiece. This is not a peanut butter, like you’d think, it looks like caramel and is smooth but has the wonderful roasted taste of peanuts and a good hit of salt to balance out all the other sweets. The last section is fudge. Sweet and with that slightly cooling grain to it, the fudge is nice and not too sweet but suffers from the same blandness of the whole bar - too much sugar and not enough chocolate in the chocolate.
I can see how this bar was so successful for so long. Steve Almond talks about the history of the bar in Candy Freak (chapter 2), that it was one of the most popular bars on the east coast and had a prominent billboard in Times Square which was re-lit at the end of WWII. As a bit of nostalgia, it’s fun. But it’s not my nostalgia, I have not particular affinity for it, so it’s merely an experience for me. It’s probably a great bar to share with friends (as long as there actually is something for everyone) and probably speaks to people who really like variety in their candy.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, September 12, 2005
Name: Five Star Bar - Caramel
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview and on the show Steve Almond gave the host a Five Star Bar. Steve had also featured the bar in his book Candy Freak, so I was already aware of its virtues. Still, I’d not seen one in person. I did get a gift over the holidays though, of a little package of their milk and dark chocolate squares, which were very nice and smooth.
The bar has it all. It’s a hefty little log, about as wide as it is high and twice as long as that. At two ounces, it’s bigger than your normal candy bar, but smaller than a king-size. It’s not quite gourmet, but too good for the regular candy shelf.
Upon biting into it there’s an intense explosion of caramel. The first ingredient on the package is CREAM, so you know how fatty and smooth this bar has got to be. The caramel has a good carmelize sugar taste to it, without going too far into toffee land. It’s very sticky and smooth. Inside there are nuts and a few dark chocolate bits (not enough for me, but you know, who am I to quibble with something so positively reviewed).
One thing’s for sure, I’m going to try all their Five Star Bars. For the record, my husband also picked up the Java Truffle Bar and a Peppermint Bark (I don’t have the package in front of me and their website is down). The Java bar is really nice, with a good smokey coffee flavor to it and it’s not too sweet (and made with dark chocolate). The mint one is really smooth but not quite minty enough for me.
Interesting note - I give high marks to all candies with the word five in their name. Coincidence?
Rating - 9 out of 10 (they’re really expensive)
Friday, August 5, 2005
Name: White Chocolate Take 5
I own a lot of clothes with chocolate stains on them. However, I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to drive me to convert to white chocolate. In another revamp of a current candy bar with white chocolate, here is the Take 5 White Chocolate (limited edition).
What I noticed most about this bar was the peanut butter taste to it. Let’s face it, white chocolate is not a flavor. Chocolate is a flavor, but white chocolate is like deodorized chocolate ... and deflavored while we’re at it. All the fat and sugar and none of the tasty/healthy cocoa solids.
The good news is that Hershey is using real white chocolate - you’re wondering what that means? Well, in order for chocolate to be chocolate it needs to contain cocoa solids (basically cocoa) and cocoa butter (that fat that is solid at room temp and melts at body temp). White chocolate really has no definition, but purists prefer white chocolate that’s actually made with cocoa butter because it’s such a neat fat. Hershey is using real cocoa butter for their white chocolate and it shows in this bar (if they’d only use real vanilla, we might really have a winner).
The bar has an overwhelming sweet peanut smell and taste. I’m guessing that the milk chocolate Take 5 has more of a balance between flavors, but because there is no chocolate flavor here, only texture, the peanut butter and peanuts dominate (that’s not a bad thing, if you like peanuts). The pretzels really stood out as a flavor (they’re a bit lost in the regular Take 5) and the crisp and salt was a great contrast to the sweet, sticky caramel and white chocolate.
I was surprised at how good this bar was. It’s still not my thing but if you’re a nut lover and want something satisfying like chocolate without the actual cocoa, then this might be for you. Again, if Hershey’s really wants to win me over (okay, it’s not like I’m boycotting them or anything after the Twosomes Whoppers) they should make a dark chocolate pecan version of this.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Friday, July 15, 2005
Name: Butterfinger Crisp
I’ve always been fond of wafer and creme cookies. They’re a pure blast of sugar in a rather bland styrofoamy cookie. I figured this bar was similar to that, only butterfingery.
Essentially there are bland wafers with a butterfinger creme which is a sweet peanut butter flavored concoction. The whole bar is then enrobed in a chocolatey wax and some more crumbled “crunchety” bits.
What I can say, beyond the fact that this bar is a great mix of textures, is that it’s salty. I know that sounds like a weird thing to mention, but there’re 140 mgs of salt in this bar. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the salt is a great complement to the flavors in this bar, but it’s very noticeable.
That aside, the crisp wafers and smooth and strongly peanutty creme is a great combo and if I could just find that as a cookie, I’d be pretty happy. What makes this a candy bar though, is that they dipped the whole thing in some sort of chocolate flavored wax (similar to what they put on Butterfingers). This waxy coating is the reason I don’t enjoy Butterfingers. In fact, if you gave me a Butterfinger, I’d probably scrape the chocolate off and enjoy the great peanut butter crisp center. I couldn’t even find any mention of the chocolately coating in the description of the bar on the Butterfinger site, so they must not think it’s much of a selling point either.
What I should mention is that the bar I tried was manufactured in Venezuela. I don’t know if this is the norm for all bars sold in the states of if it’s how I was able to purchase a normally 75 cent bar for 33 cents. (And it was fresh.)
In general, if I feel like a nutty crisp bar covered in chocolate, I go for a 5th Avenue.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Name: Take Five
If I were to create the perfect candy bar, a great snack bar that would give me energy and taste good, it would contain the following: chocolate, pretzels, caramel and nuts. It’d be a great mix of simple carbs, fat and protein so as not to overwhelm the bloodstream with too much sugar. In my world it’d be a super turtle with a pretzel base, chewy caramel then pecans all covered in semi-sweet chocolate.
On a visit to the Chocolate Homeworld, er, sorry, Chocolate World in Hershey on New Year’s Day, this was the sample they gave us at the end of the ride. I quickly bargained with the other people in our party for theirs.
Hershey’s is dang close with the Take 5 bar. It’s got a pretzel center covered with peanut butter then a layer of caramel, a few chopped peanuts and then it’s all enrobed in milk chocolate. (Maybe I got that order wrong, it’s hard to tell.) The proportions are solid and the pretzel has got a great salty kick. If anything, the milk chocolate is a little sweet, but the salt on the pretzels and the slight saltiness of the peanut butter (which tastes like the center of a Reese’s ... maybe sweeter) balances well. If it only came in dark chocolate I might be in heaven.
The packaging is good, there are two little pieces in a tray and sealed in a the plastic packaging so they stay intact and are easy to slide out. I really wish they could figure out how to make this without hydrogenated oils, though it’s pretty far down on the list of ingredients and doesn’t show up on the nutrition part. For now I’ll keep buying it when I need a little boost during the day. It’s especially good with a morning cup of coffee, as I’m having the second piece right now.
As far as I’m concerned this bar could have lots of versions. A pecan/maple version, a pecan/dark chocolate turtle one, maybe white chocolate and walnuts or macadamias (not really for me, but a solid combo - I know that a white version of this same bar exists but I haven’t seen it yet) then another version with mint cookies and almonds.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (just make a dark version or a pecan one!)
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Sometime when I wasn’t looking (I photographed it last summer again) the Hershey’s Take 5 left the list of chocolate candy bars and joined the growing list of Hershey’s Real Mockolate.
The package now says: made with chocolate & pretzels & caramel & peanuts & peanut butter. That “made with chocolate” part means that the coating may contain chocolate, but it has other additives such as vegetable oils that mean that it’s not pure chocolate. The actual chocolate as an ingredient comes far down on the list as the number 6 item, after vegetable oils and high fructose corn sweetener and before nonfat milk (you can imagine there’s not that much milk in there).
The bars actually still look quite fetching. Little rather rectangular lumps with a pleasant sweet & peanutty scent.
Mine were exceptionally fresh, the pretzel was good and crunchy, a nice salty complement to the sweet coating. The coating didn’t have much flavor but did add a creamy texture.
This one was passably good, but I’ve had others in the past few months (I picked them out of a mix of snack size in a bowl at the office a couple of times) and I didn’t realize why they were kind of empty tasting for what I remembered. I just thought they were stale ... turns out that they’re just not designed to be good any longer.
Hershey’s still has an opportunity to reverse this and make it real chocolate again.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Name: Big Cherry
I had no idea there were made right here in Los Angeles. I also didn’t know that the Ben Meyerson Candy Co. is also behind all those Sunkist candy treats. It only makes sense then, that they’d have a big chocolate covered cherry in their repetoire. The primary curiosity of this candy, as Amy pointed out, is that the first ingredient on the label is not chocolate or cherries, but peanuts. Then sugar, corn syrup, CHERRIES and four items later is Cocoa. Hmm, might not be real chocolate on the outside.
It certainly smells nutty. Peanuts and cherries sound like a good combo. The wad is pretty big, picture a lumpy golf ball. Maybe it’s a bit bigger than that. It smelled chocolately and nutty and sweet.
I really should have taken a photo of the inside, because that’s the most interesting part. Inside is a bright pink cream - yes, pink like the package ... maybe brighter. The outside shell is thick and soft and the inside is well, thick and softer. There, far at the center was a dark, plump, red maraschino cherry.
I’m not overly fond of cherries and when I have chocolate I prefer the real stuff. The combo of peanuts and cherry cream was pretty good though a tad sweet without allowing the flavors to come through.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (because I don’t like cherries that much).
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Name: Reese’s Pieces Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Introduced last year, Reese’s Pieces Peanuts and Peanut Butter are a natural evolution of Reese’s Pieces (which have been around since 1978 ... why didn’t they do this sooner?).
They’re just Reese’s Pieces with a whole peanut at the center. The colors are the same RP colors, except for some reason they don’t quite have the consistent sheen to them, they’re slightly speckly. I don’t think it’s bad for the flavor or anything, they just aren’t as pretty as they could be.
I bought these at Target in a “theater box” and they’re a pretty good deal at 89 cents. I’ve not seen them in smaller bags anywhere. Actually, until I saw them at Target I didn’t even know they existed. The Reese’s site says that they’re a limited edition. Reese’s seems to be trying out a lot of different variations on their products lately, the inside out peanut butter cup, the white chocolate peanut butter cup and the Swoops. I still prefer just plain old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Not just for the nostalgia, but it was just a great combo and sometimes you get it right the first time.
I always found regular RPs just a little too artificial in the peanut butter part, a little too sweet, a little too creamy. Well, that an all the hydrogenated oils. Where these succeed is the pure peanut taste of a real peanut in the center. It really balances out the greasiness of the RP filling and makes a nice combo. I’m still not likely to buy these over Peanut M&Ms for movie snacking, but I’m not sorry I tried them. If I went to the theater and these were available, I might pick them up. Unless they were like, $3 a box, which they’d probably be. Then I’d regret not sneaking them in.
The other thing is that the name is just too long.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Name: Wha Guru Chew
Reading over the ingredients list, I’m wondering what this has to do with the Yogi Bhajan. But I suppose even the most enlightened among us wants a sweet now and then. While there’s nothing bad about these caramel nut bars, they contain no trans fat and use brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice instead of corn syrup, I’m struggling with the health food aspects of this. Aw hell, let’s just call it candy and be done with it.
These are fab. I can’t tell you how fab these are. The caramel is flavorful and soft, the nuts are fresh and crunchy and the smell is pure buttery sweetness. The only problem I have with them is that they’re very soft, so you taking them out of the package is nearly impossible and even getting the package open without scissors ended up too much of a challenge for me.
Cashew Vanilla - the right sweet notes of vanilla blended with buttery cashews. There are also sunflower seeds in here, which add an extra crunch and earthy taste to the bar to balance the sweetness of the caramel. A little touch of salt balances it all out.
Almond Ginger - it doesn’t smell quite as inviting as the cashew vanilla bar (I don’t think ginger smells that good inherently, as it has a rooty/earthy smell). But biting into this bar wipes away any hesitation that this bar will be as good as the former. The ginger pops out as a spicy base for the sugary caramel and the mild almonds. A slight trace of lemon zest links all the flavors together well.
Peanut Cashew - this one diverges from the recipe of the above two which are sweetened primarily with brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice. This is sweetened with clover honey (and barley malt syrup). This honey base makes for a less viscous caramel but really amps up the flavor. The first tone you get upon biting into it is a strong orange essence. In addition to the peanuts and cashews are sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Of the three this was my least favorite, though still worthy of trying.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.