Monday, May 1, 2006
Sometimes I think that I’m neglecting some of the best candy in the world just because it’s been around forever. Sure, CandyBlog is here to help me and you expand our candy horizons, but that doesn’t mean that we need to cast aside our tried-and-true friends. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
So I decided to revisit these old friends, and of course include whatever new and funky versions are out there.
First, there’s the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It got its first commercial media blast with a campaign in the 70s that featured two people - one eating peanut butter from a jar and the other eating a chocolate bar. They would collide and the chocolate bar would end up in the peanut butter and the chocolate eater would complain, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” The peanut butter eater would complain, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Then they’d both taste it and it’d be pure love. Cue the jingle ... Two great tastes that taste great together, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
There ain’t a thing wrong with this candy. It’s simple and pure, the combination of two strong flavors. A milk chocolate cup filled with a slightly crumbly, dense peanut butter with a little salty kick. The proportions are spot-on. Enough milk chocolate to lubricate the sticky, thick peanut butter. Enough salt to balance the sweet chocolate. As candy goes, it’s not even as bad for you as you might think. Yes, half the calories come from fat, but for your 220 calories you’re getting 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Show me a nutrition bar that does that and tastes this good. Okay, maybe there are some. Show me one that costs $.75!
The Reese’s Double Chocolate was an oddity. First, let me say that Hershey’s has chocolated a couple of candy bars lately with good results. I liked the York Peppermint Truffle Pattie and the Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate. So I was thinking this could be similar by adding a bit of fudgyness to the center.
What it did was mute the flavor of the center. I don’t know how else to describe it. It didn’t taste chocolatey, just less peanut buttery but just as dense and creamy. It’s not offensively bad and if there were no regular Reese’s around I wouldn’t be adverse to this, but it seems kind of unnecessary. It’s like someone said, “I’d like a less peanutty Reese’s” and this is the result.
I understand the rationale behind the Extra Smooth & Creamy, after all, the center of a Reese’s Cup does have some peanut texture to it. There are people out there who like creamy peanut butter and those who like chunky. The change in texture definitely changed the dynamic here. It made it ultra dense and actually melded a lot of the flavors together. The chocolate didn’t seem distinct from the peanut butter; the sweet didn’t seem distinct from the salt.
The latest addition to the Reese’s line is the Reese’s Caramel. The promotion for this new cup is all over the place. It seems like a natural extension of the candy cup and I was more than willing to entertain the notion that it would work. The commercials and even the packaging suggests that it’s flowing, gooey caramel that’s easily distinguished from the other primary ingredients - peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not. I mean, I could detect a bit of additional sweetness, and if I took the cup apart the caramel by itself had a flavor, but it just wasn’t distinctive enough to play with the big hitters - chocolate and peanuts.
Also, it suffers from some mess issues. Sometimes I’ll take a bite of my candy cup and set it down and do something at my desk and then have another bite. That’s not really an option here. Eventually the caramel will come flowing out. Sticky, sticky caramel. Maybe as a miniature I’d be more happy.
The White Chocolate Reese’s is not for me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad bar, it’s got a nice balance and for white chocolate, it uses real cocoa butter so it has a buttery, creamy quality. The saltiness of the peanut butter and the sweetness of the white chocolate balance well, but it lacks a dark and intense punch that the milk chocolate can provide. I reviewed this previously.
(NOTE: As of early 2008 this product is now called White Reese’s, as it doesn’t use real white chocolate with cocoa butter. It is not as good as it used to be, sweeter and with a waxier mouthfeel.)
As if all the iterations of the classic cup of peanut butter inside chocolate isn’t enough, they messed around with proportion and portion. Witness the Big Cup. Below, I’ve illustrated the size difference of the regular Reese’s Cup and the Big Cup.
The regular cup is approximately .75 ounces, the Big Cup is 1.4 ounces (basically double).
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something to be said for proportion. But it’s not just the amount of chocolate and the amount of peanut butter, it also has to do with proximity and how it blends in the mouth. There’s too much peanut butter here! However, if you’re a peanut butter lover and are looking for a bigger peanut punch, this might be for you.
The Big Cup with Nuts seems to understand the idea of “unique selling proposition”. It’s a cup but with whole nuts in there (well, maybe they’re peanut halves)! What’s nice is that the nuts have room to spread out, instead of being crammed into the flatter regular cup. The nuts have a great crunch and really seem to set off the ultra-peanutty butter. These have also been released in a miniature version, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to work (I haven’t seen them in stores yet).
Like its smaller brother, the White Chocolate Big Cup features white chocolate made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated tropical oils. It smells like Easter and benefits from the bigger proportion of peanut butter. It’s still not appealing to me, though, but slightly better than the regular sized version.
The Reese’s line is certainly not limited to “cups” and I think I’ve reviewed most of the other items in the line: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions).
I could have held this review until I got a hold of the other new Limited Editions: Inside Out (which I think they’ve done before) and Fudge plus the Dark Chocolate Miniatures, but by then there’ll be something else on the horizon and this post will be REALLY long. I didn’t rate the candies individually but I give Reese’s a 9 out of 10 as a candy expression of peanut butter. There are some real misses in their line of candies (see previous reviews) but the new items like the cookies and of course the tried and true miniatures keep the average well above average.
Like KitKats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there are a lot of different versions of Pocky, and I’ll probably never get through all of them. Luckily this one came in a smaller package.
This petite sized box is about one third the size of a regular box of Pocky, which is fine for me when I’m still experimenting. Pocky Caramel is the same bland cookie/pretzel stick this time dipped in a white-chocolate-style caramel-flavored coating.
What was oddest about the flavor of these was not that it tasted like caramel, and it did, but that it tasted rather like orange. Like a nice orange creme brulee. I have no idea how this was achieved, but I found it rather nice. Even though there was a strong powdered milk flavor to the whole thing it didn’t feel grainy or fake-tasting. They were rather sweet through and probably too sweet for my tastes as Pocky goes, but I’m starting to think that Pocky should make a combo pack that has little packets of different flavors in it so you can mix it up. Maybe eating a Chocolate Pocky and Caramel Pocky together would be tasty.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn’t do a very good job of finding a lot of stuff at the end of Candy Season with the post-Easter sales. I think I did much better on the post-Valentines front and here’s one of the items I picked up at that time.
I’d never heard of Stephany but the side of the box said “always the perfect gift” which must also mean, “always the perfect after holiday bargain.” Though the box had hearts on the outside, nowhere did it say Valentines Day or love or anything like that, so I thought it could just be their regular design. It also had a smart little label that said that the candy was good until June 1, 2006!
Inside the box were four pieces of almond toffee covered in chocolate and rolled in crushed almonds. The chocolate was thick and sweet and the toffee hard but with a good toothsome cleave to it. The toffee had a good salty bit to it and the chocolate far outweighed the toffee in sweetness. The ample nuts were good and fresh.
What was also nice was the price and the fact that I could get something from Colorado (what is it about Colorado and toffee?) at my local Target.
But I guess the big news here is that Stephany’s Chocolates is no more. They closed down their factory and retail stores about 10 days ago according to news reports. I considered not posting anything at all about this candy, but I figured I bought it and took a photo and then ate it, I may as well document it so that other candy fans will know what happened.
Friday, April 28, 2006
I picked these up last December and have been munching on them.
There are some things that I really like about Scharffen Berger chocolate, but few of them have to do with taste. I like the idea of them. I like their design aesthetic, I like their vibe, I like their factory. I, unfortunately, don’t care much for their chocolate. Of course there are exceptions, such as the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, it just goes to show, you can’t judge all products by their brand.
Try as I might, I just can’t like their plain chocolates.
Extra Dark 82% Cacao - yes, it’s very dark lookin’ stuff. Lustrous and glossy, it has a nice snap and a strongly chocolatey smell. The immediate burst on the tongue is an astringency that just sucks you dry. There are some anise notes and even some basil all laced with an unpleasant bitterness. The chocolate itself is smooth but very sour. It’s great for making sauces though and this is the stuff I used at Thanksgiving for making a hard sauce for pecan pie.
Mint 62% Cacao - really, really minty. No, seriously ... you’ll take a bite and look at it the little bar and wonder why it even resembles chocolate. Kind of sweet, there’s a strange smoky quality to it that doesn’t really go with the mint.
Semisweet - after tasting the Extra Dark, this was more than semisweet, it was very sweet. It’s got a very strong woodsy base to it that reminds me of cedar. It’s slightly grainy, like the sugar isn’t completely emulsified with the chocolate or something. There is only the slightest indication of the acidity and astringency of the darker chocolate but it does have a hint of black pepper that I find very nice. Still, the mix of sweet, butter and chocolate flavors just isn’t right for my palate.
Milk Chocolate 41% - again with the tartness. Even the creamy dairy notes are missing, it’s smooth but it’s missing the fullness of flavor. There are lots of flavors at work here, but none of them particularly chocolatey.
Mocha - the coffee notes here are well rounded and feel much more honest than most coffee chocolates that I’ve tried. But it’s not as smooth and has both the acidity of the chocolate and the coffee that just combines in a way that in a way is tasty, but keeps me from eating a lot. But really, why would I want to keep buying a chocolate just because I don’t want to eat it that much?
I know I send some pretty mixed messages when it comes to Scharffen Berger. I raved about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, but I don’t like the chocolate that they make them into. I can’t explain it, so I’ll just let it be what it is.
It’s so weird how candy seems to appear sometimes. It might have been there all along, but it’s invisible to me unless I know what I’m looking for. For a long time I wasn’t even interested in GooGoo Clusters. Mostly because of the marshmallow element. It’s odd that I say that I don’t like marshmallows much, but then I look at the items I’ve reviewed and see the tally that I’ve posted about marshmallow candies 16 times before but only 9 posts about licorice or 10 about malt which are actually a favorites of mine. But in my defense I most recently tried the GooGoo Supreme because it included one of my favorite nuts, the Pecan.
As disappointing as that bar was, it did get me curious about the GooGoo Cluster. But where to find one? I thought about ordering them online, but it’s kind of a hassle and candy is all about easy, isn’t it? Then I was in the 99 Cent Only Store looking for some cheap storage bins for all my candy and I breezed through the candy aisle and saw them!
The GooGoo Cluster is a flat marshmallow center with a glaze of caramel which is then covered in a mix of milk chocolate studded with peanuts.
There are a lot of nuts, and they’re like those Spanish peanuts in that many still have their skins. It’s an interesting combination of textures and flavors. The goo is soft and though not quite flowing, it’s not foamy either. The caramel provides a good bit of chew to the whole thing and then there’s the chocolate and coconut. Yes, there’s coconut in here - which gives the peanuts much more of a nutty pop and makes everything taste creamier.
I was VERY suprised by this bar. First, I think it helps that it was obviously fresh. I’m often hesitant to review bargain store candy, but these are clearly not leftovers or closeouts. Second, it’s a great combination of flavors in the proper proportions. (As long as you like peanuts). It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t too gooey (if you can believe that a bar named GooGoo isn’t too gooey).
I just hope they keep selling them at the 99 Cent Only Store ... or maybe I hope they don’t!
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Thursday, April 27, 2006
When I did my review last week of Turkish Delight, Joanna of SugarSavvy.net suggested that I try Aplets & Cotlets. Since I’m allergic to walnuts, I did a little digging on their site and found that they have some nutless products and then I fortuitously found some at the 99 Cent Only Store over the weekend.
I’m already partial to Turkish Delight and I figured this was an American version and it pretty much is. They’re American flavors and they sounded interesting on the package:
Cherry Amaretto - oh, well, this one just combines two of my least favorite flavors! Actually, it wasn’t as bad as all that. It was more like a cherry pie (which I like) and had little cherry bits in it. It didn’t have much of an amaretto note, so I’m guessing folks who like amaretto would be upset by the false advertising, but I was thankful.
Apple Spice - an interesting idea but not very apple-y or very spicy. It was sweet and had a nice kind of apple pie scent, but not much flavor to go with it.
Orange Ginger - this one is the star and if I could buy a package of just this, I probably would. The orange rind bits were noticeable and provide a zesty and sometimes bitter snap. Not much ginger burn or spice to it, but a good earthy flavor.
Strawberry Conserve - very sweet but at the same time intensely fragrant without any sort of artificial note to it. No tartness, just all the sweet berry notes. Quite a few seeds in there too.
The strangest thing about this package was the array. The package was a tray with nine slots in it. But there were four flavors. So which one do you think had a bonus? The other odd thing was that each pair of flavors looked the same. It turns out that the bonus piece was Strawberry Conserve. I have no idea if yours will be the same.
The texture missed on actually being Turkish Delight, as it was a bit denser and more flavored. The candies are covered in fine granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar, so they’re not at all messy. They’re not really a candy that I would sit and munch on while watching TV or a movie, but I think it’d be nice to serve with tea. I’m kind of curious now to try their other varieties, especially the mint and true Lokum. However, the sizes they sell on the website are a little large for my desire to just sample, so I’ll keep my eye out for these smaller packages in stores.
Note: the website sells these in a section called “Nut Free”, however, if you have severe nut allergies, the package notes that the candies may contain traces of peanuts and other nuts.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
One of the most talked-about candy stores in New York City has to be Dylan’s Candy Bar. Unlike Economy Candy, Dylan’s is all about display and experience. Also unlike Economy Candy: you pay a premium.
Located on Third Avenue at 60th Street - it’s a tony address - though not quite Park Avenue it is kitty-corner from Bloomingdale’s. If I could compare the store to something it would be FAO Schwartz. The store is brightly lit and on two levels. The street level boasts a large ice cream bar and featured huge Easter displays when I visited. The ceiling fixtures and shelves are candy themed, with large panels looking like some sort of vine of lollipops growing into the ceiling and large rainbow colored candy canes.
Dylan’s Candy Bar sells a huge range of products, both edible and wearable. The big feature, of course, is candy. The cornerstone is bulk candy and the bins are everywhere. They had a huge selection of all the sugar candy you can think of: gummis, Jelly Belly, Dubble Bubble flavored gumballs and licorice. They have chocolate too, from M&Ms (Colorworks), chocolate covered Oreos and malted milk balls as well as their own line of fine chocolates and flavored Belgian chocolate bars.
There were plenty of folks on hand to help out, none of the lines were very long (I expected the place to be crowded before Easter, but I did make sure to go on a weekday at lunch instead of on the weekend). The salesfolk seemed knowledgeable about the inventory too, which is a pretty big accomplishment with such a wide number of products. The prices for the bulk candies ran about $9.99 and they had some funky stuff, not just in the bulk bins but some fun displays. They had a HUGE selection of PEZ and a great big display of favorite candies chosen by famous people on the lower level. (Frankly, I don’t care much what famous people eat ... I’ll probably care when they ask me to do a custom mix.) There’s lots to look at and do in the store and I saw some children running around having the time of their lives (and their parents looked pretty pleased, too).
Their website features quite a few regional candy bars, so I was hoping to find an Idaho Spud, but it seems that they were fresh out. But I was able to find my Nut Goodie there and I also picked up a few other items that I’ll write about soon. There were also some funky items in the bins, like banana flavored gummi bears and a large selection of candy sticks in a wide variety of flavors and lollipops of all shapes, sizes and colors.
As I mentioned, Dylan’s Candy Bar has their own line of chocolate bars, so I picked up a nice assortment. They come in 10 different flavor combinations, but I picked of the little 1.75” tasting squares as an introduction:
Dark Raspberry - it was a nice dark chocolate bar. Not terribly sweet with a good overtone of raspberry essence to it, but none of the tart bite. The berry flavors mixed well with the earthy and fruity notes of the chocolate itself.
Dark - glossy and dark, there was no indication of the cocoa content here or on the website. It was nice, a little on the smoky side, but very smooth and a tad bit sweet.
Hazelnut - this bar is in the Guanduja-style, the first ingredient is hazelnut paste and the rest of the bar is made up of milk chocolate. It’s soft and creamy and a bit sticky feeling. The overwhelming flavor here is not the hazelnuts but the whole milk powder. The nuts add a level of satisfaction to the bar, but the milkiness just beats the nuttiness out of it to my dismay.
Dark Espresso (unwrapped) - a nice snap but a fair bit of grain in this bar from the ground coffee in it. The coffee flavor itself was good but completely overwhelmed the chocolate flavors and it seemed much sweeter than the Raspberry bar.
Can you tell I’m underwhelmed?
Maybe it started with their frustrating website, maybe I’m spoiled, but I want more info on my purchases. (I had a similar experience in the store.) Maybe I have no idea what a clodhopper is and the clothing ... maybe they could give me info on the fiber content. I want to know how much is in the package, and I want some indication of ingredients.
Maybe the article I read last year about Dylan Lauren rubbed me the wrong way and that’s colored my evaluation of the store. The NY Times line that got me was this:
What’s most interesting is that as I was there, I did not see “The Candy Girl” shopping there. I’m not the sexy, young, thin woman she pursues as a demographic (though maybe two out of four counts). As much as she might be positioning herself that way, the store is about kids - the displays obviously acknowledge that as there was quite a bit of the merchandise marketed to the under-four-foot set. While the store makes it socially acceptable for an adult to come in there and make a purchase(s), a destination like this will always be about children.
The other frustration is the price. Candy bars like the Nut Goodie I picked up are $1.49 and the bulk candy, such as Swedish Fish, in a plain plastic bag is $9.99 a pound. The same candy bar at Economy Candy is $.69 and probably about $1.00 at any of the many corner stores in NYC. The same Swedish Fish at Economy Candy were $3.49 a pound. What are you paying for here? Convenience of the address? Packaging? Isn’t that what Ralph Lauren has been selling us for years anyway? Except RL wasn’t taking Levi’s 501s and slapping his own logo on them and selling them for $100 a pair. Is Dylan’s Candy Bar doing that by taking other brands of candy and just dumping them into a clear plastic paint can?
Though I struggle with the the premium I pay at Vosges or Jacques Torres (which is like a fantasy land as well) I can rationalize it because they own their merchandise; they formulated it, they invented it, they make it. When I go into a mega-mart like Target or Toys-r-Us I expect better prices. Dylan’s just throws all of those expectations out the window. Sure, they have their own line of chocolates, but they sell everyone else’s too. They’re just selling you a brand, a bag and a logo. Sure, I have a similar complaint with the candy stores in malls where everything is in bulk bins and they’re selling it all for $8 a pound, whether you’re picking up plain old peppermint hard candies, gummi bears or M&Ms. But when I’m in Santa Rosa, CA, my candy store choices are limited and I accept the premium for variety. Dylan’s is in NYC, one of the most candy cities I’ve ever visited and Economy Candy is a scant four miles away.
I did enjoy browsing the displays, but the frugal part of me couldn’t get over the prices or the sheer gall of selling something that probably cost about $2 a pound wholesale for $10. There were candies there that I haven’t been able to find in other stores, so I appreciate that there were unique items there and there was a wide price range as well so you could get out of there with a bag of candy for under $5 with careful decision making. Part of the attraction of candy for me has always been its affordability and Dylan’s takes that part of the fun away. It’s no longer a simple pleasure, it’s an expensive one.
As the Candy Blogger, I’ll probably return. But as a simple candy consumer, it’s not a place I’d patronize. I found my second home in New York, it’s Economy Candy.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.