Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
My European candy blogging friends latched onto a new product last year, the Peanut M&Ms Intense 65% Cacao which are made in France but sold in quite a few European countries. When I had the opportunity to do a candy swap with Kristian at CandyBrain.de, this was on my wishlist of items.
I have to admit that the United States has the most diverse selection of M&MS, and we’ve even had Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms in stores before. So, I was mightily surprised to see that France got 65% cacao M&Ms before we did.
The bag is pretty big, with 9 ounces in a stand up gusset package. Instead of the zip top that many snack sized packages are getting the US, this on has a little sticker on the back you can peel off to use to hold it closed after you roll the top down.
The color variety for these is interesting. I looked at the ingredient panel to check if these were all natural, and it appears that it’s nearly so. I looked up all the colorings and found the following listed:
e100 is Turmeric, a yellow-orange dye (derived from plants)
Here’s the weird thing about the coloring used on the shells. I could tell what some of the colors were without looking by the taste. The red one had a banana note and the orange one had a hint of curry.
The shell is quite the same as in the US version. It’s crunchy and not too thick but doesn’t crack easily. They smell nicely of cocoa and a hint of roasted peanuts. The chocolate inside is quite dark, with an immediate bitter note and a little bit of a dry undertone. It’s creamy and a little chalky but not in a grainy way. The peanuts however, were weird. I found most of mine were over-roasted, too dark, bitter and just plain ... well, not right. Maybe they’re not American peanuts, which I admit I’m quite acclimated to.
I wanted to like these more than I did, though I had no trouble eating them all. Of course the fact that they’re not available in the United States solves any issues I’d have if I did love them a little too much. Now ... maybe if they started putting Marcona almonds or Hazelnuts in there along with the dark chocolate ... then we might have something that would drive me to order from eBay regularly. I would be even better if the M&Ms World Stores would stock these international versions.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Friday, August 16, 2013
A solid layer of crunchy peanut butter topped with caramel and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
It’s made with dairy-free rice “milk” chocolate which can’t actually be called chocolate according to the FDA, which has strict standards about such things. However, there are no other fillers in it, just cacao, cocoa butter and some evaporated cane juice. It’s an actual vegan candy bar that’s also fair trade and organic. That’s a rare thing. Of course, feeling good before you eat the candy is nice, but not really very productive if it doesn’t actually taste good. Now that I’ve tried all three of Eli’s Earth Bars multiple times, I’m ready to say that they’re actually good, but a little funky.
There’s really no comparison for this bar to a commercial bar on shelves today. The center is like a crushed Butterfinger bar (or if you prefer, the vegan version would be an Atkinson’s Chick-o-Stick) mixed in with some peanut butter and then a layer of caramel then covered in chocolate.
It smells peanutty and sweet and a little like Cap’n Crunch. The rice milk chocolate coating is a little greasy and thin tasting, it’s more like a chocolate milk taste than an actual chocolate taste. The soft center is sweet peanut butter with a bunch of crunchy, peanut crisp lumps. Then there’s a stripe of caramel on the top that gives the whole thing a chew.
It’s odd, not quite successful but still compelling enough that I always eat the whole bar. (I’ve tried this bar three times now.) If you don’t or can’t eat dairy, this is a very tasty approximation of a dairy bar (but it’s made on equipment that does use dairy, so not for those with true allergies). But I’d prefer to just eat Chick-o-Sticks if I need a vegan peanut candy fix.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.