Monday, October 25, 2010
So around Christmas sometimes I’ll pick up the Butterfinger Jingles, which are bells made of milk chocolate with Butterfinger crunch pieces. It’s been a while though, so when I saw these Nestle Butterfinger Pumpkins I thought it was great that I could pick up a modestly sized version instead of a big bag. They were on sale, two for a dollar but they also come in a tray of 6 which seemed to be priced higher per piece at Target.
The chocolate disk is nicely designed and molded. I liked the dimensionality of it and the fanciful face that incorporated not only the carving but the strong ribs of the pumpkin shape. It smelled pretty appealing too, like chocolate and roasted peanuts with a touch of toffee. So far so good.
After that first bite pictured there, I was tempted to spit this out. It was waxy and sweet with no chocolate flavor at all. But I thought maybe I was spoiled because I was also photographing some Ritter Sport at the same time (which naturally required a few bites as well). So I tucked away the rest and give it a few days.
With the second bite I still thought it was a mixture of greasy and waxy chocolate, but the cocoa flavors came through a little stronger. There’s a mix of toasted peanut flavors and a hint of bitterness along with the barely passable chocolate. The chips of the Butterfinger center save this candy from being completely inedible. They’re a little salty and have a mixture of molasses and peanut butter flavors.
While I’ve been finding that Wonka candies have been improving in quality, this Butterfinger Pumpkin doesn’t taste as good as the Jingles I remember. In fact, it’s pretty terrible and makes me wish I could find the Clark Wicked Mix in my area.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Kraft Caramels are one of those products that transcends the definition of candy. Like chocolate chips, they’re also an ingredient in countless recipes. I’m more likely to see these bags in the baking aisle of the grocery store than the candy section.
Kraft Caramels were introduced in 1933, the same year Kraft brought Miracle Whip into people’s lives. In a strange twist, Kraft decided to sell their industry-standard caramels and spun them off with a few other brands to a new company called Favorite Brands. They made the caramels with the Kraft name for two years under the agreement, but after that they rolled them into their other candy brand, Farley’s and called them Farley’s Original Chewy Caramels. Well, I don’t know if you remember those years of not being able to find Kraft Caramels ... I’m not sure how brand aware I was at that time, but I think I considered myself confused and ended up buying Brach’s Caramels. Kraft got their caramels back in 2000 and I think they learned their lesson. (You can read more here.)
The caramels are packaged simply and perfectly. Each cube is wrapped in clear cellophane, like little gifts with the surprise spoiled with the transparent packaging.
The color is beautiful and mine were fresh, slightly soft and glossy. They smells sweet, like vanilla pudding. The bite is soft and easy, but not a stringy chew. It’s also not quite a fudge texture. This style of caramel is called a short caramel, the sugar and milk is completely emulsified so there are no sugar crystals. The sugar is caramelize, so it has a light toffee note to it along with the mellow dairy flavors of the milk.
The chew is interesting and flavorful, but lacks a bit of the stickiness that I desire in a caramel. I like a complex flavor and silkier texture. They’re sweet but at least have a salty note to balance that out. They stick in my teeth a bit, but don’t bind my molars together like some stale Sugar Babies can do.
The ingredients are decent enough for cheap candy: corn syrup, sugar, skim milk, palm oil, whey, salt, artificial flavor and soy lecithin.
I understand that one of the benefits to this style though is its versatility for recipes. They can be melted and added to other ingredients like swirled into brownies, drizzled on popcorn and of course their most popular use - caramel dipped apples.
There are 32 calories in each caramel cube and they’re still made in the U.S.A. Kosher.
Finally, an early TV commercial for Kraft Caramels:
While looking for Kraft Caramels these past few weeks, I stumbled on these smaller bags of Ferrara Pan Traditional Caramels. This little 6.75 ounce bag also included sticks for making the classic caramel covered apples.
Ferrara Pan is known for their panned candies (hence the company name) like Lemonheads, Boston Baked Bean and Atomic Fireballs. A boiled sweet like caramels is kind of out of place, but then again Ferrara recently branched out into chocolate, so why not caramel?
Turning over the bag to compare the ingredients I found something more substantially informative. Ferrara Pan doesn’t make these. They’re made by Embare in Brazil. Embare is a premiere candy maker in South America, known for their dairy-based confections like caramels and pudding mixes. Caramel has a fine tradition in South America, so why not go there for some great ones?
The cellophane seems a little heavier and is actually sealed at the ends. They’re soft enough to pinch. They don’t smell like much out of the wrapper.
The bite is much softer and chewier. They’re not quite a stringy caramel, but halfway between. They’re not as sweet as the Kraft variety, quite smooth and have a strong real vanilla flavor profile. The caramel notes are also great - a little toasty with just a hint or rum or molasses.
Each cube has 27 calories. I don’t actually mind that they’re made in Brazil and I appreciate Ferrara Pan saying exactly who is making the product.
On the left are the Ferrara Pan and on the right are the Kraft. They really do look the same.
The ingredient list on the Ferrara Pan version is longer: Sugar, corn syrup, skim milk, hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed and/or palm kernel), whey, milk, cream, salt, soy lecithin, mono- & di-glycerides, artificial vanilla flavor.
I can’t say which is better for recipes, but I preferred the texture and flavor profile of the Ferrara Pan. But I can’t say that I really loved either, if I really wanted a bite sized caramel, I’d probably go for Sugar Babies, pay a premium for See’s ... or make my own.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
About 15 years ago Tootsie introduced a new lollipop. Like many of Tootsie popular lollipops it was a combination of two already famous candies. In this case the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops combined a hard candy with caramel. It was a base of green apple flavored hard candy covered with a hard caramel (think Sugar Daddy).
Since they candy is meant to mimic a caramel covered apple, it only makes sense that other varieties of apples get their day in the sun. Last year Tootsie introduced their Assorted Apple Orchard Caramel Apple Pops. The bag has a variety: Green Apple, Golden Delicious and Red Macintosh.
I admit that I’ve had these before, well, I’ve had Green Apple pops in my possession before. I used to do product photography, so I’d get large quantities of candy to take pictures of and then I’d get to keep it. I had huge box of these and never actually ate one myself. They’re messy, the packaging doesn’t really highlight them well either. Worse, I saw them being made on TV (I think it was Unwrapped, but can’t find a mention of it on the Food Network website) and they look radically different when purchased than when they roll off the production line.
They’re puckered and irregular and often little bits of caramel poke out of the bottom of the wrapper. But I actually like Sugar Daddy and regular Tootsie Pops, so I should give these a fair shake.
The pops start with a hard candy disk, in this case flavored like green apple. Then the pop gets a coating of hard caramel and then a wrapper. During shipping and storage there’s some sort of glaciation that takes place and the pop flattens and takes on the shape of the wrapper. The hard candy gets marbled with the caramel.
The hard caramel is smooth and sweet with a light toasted sugar flavor with a hint of milk. The green apple candy is slick, without the painfully sharp edged voids of Tootsie Pops and Blow Pops. They’re not as intensely flavored as Jolly Ranchers, just a tart apple flavor. They’re comforting and mellow.
My main complaint is the width of the pop, it’s a little too wide for my mouth. The edges tend to be irregular, kind of rippled from the wrapper, this is uncomfortable when sucking on the pops after a while. The whole pop will eventually be soft and pliable and of course stick to the roof of my mouth if I’m not careful (I’m sure those impressions are like fingerprints).
The Golden Delicious variety comes in a mustard yellow wrapper. In the real fruit world, golden delicious are not on my list of favorite apples - I find them too sweet and often mealy. In the case of the candy version of the golden delicious, neither of those qualities was an issue. The scent of this pop was actually very apple like, it reminded me of peeling apples.
The apple flavor is muted and sweet and doesn’t quite stand up to the caramel as well. It’s almost like applesauce or apple pie a la mode (with caramel sauce).
I was glad that Tootsie didn’t go with red delicious on this one, instead it’s Red Macintosh which is a much more flavorful apple. The pop in this case is kind of in the middle of the flavor profile gamut - it’s not as intense or fake tasting as the Green Apple, but a little bolder than the Golden Delicious. The flavor of the red candy part was like an apple cider - notes of the apple peel and juice but still on the sweet side.
Getting over the messy look of these is a bit difficult, but the candy inside definitely has merits. I don’t see buying them for myself again but I love the idea and think that Tootsie did a great job of making the flavors distinctive enough. The pops are only 60 calories. The combination of textures and flavors makes these a good treat for those watching their calories.
Monday, October 04, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Most of what I love about Halloween is the tradition. But sometimes I do like to see a bit of novelty thrown into the mix. Earlier this year I saw that Whitman’s, makers of the famous Whitman’s Sampler boxed candies, started making holiday novelty candies. Their first entry for Easter was a series of pastel confection coated marshmallows. Their entry for Halloween is similar, a candy corn shaped Marshmallow covered in Halloween Pastelle.
The candies are sold individually wrapped, I found mine at RiteAid but I also saw them at Walgreen’s. Each piece is an ounce and comes in a simple cellophane sleeve with a decorative Halloween black & orange border. At fifty cents each it wasn’t hard to take a gamble on them.
The construction is simple. It’s a rounded triangle of soft, almost gooey marshmallow covered in a white confection. The coating is orange and yellow and frosted in the form of a piece of candy corn. Of course it’s missing a whole stripe, which was a bit disappointing. But the shades and ratios of the colors that they do have are dead on good mimics.
This is pure sugar with scant other ingredients to break up the sweetness. The “pastelle” coating has a good snap like a white chocolate but no other flavor - no milky notes, no vanilla. It’s smooth enough though that it creates a bit of a creamy container for the marshmallow. Since this was exceptionally fresh the marshmallow was moist and fluffy, though also a bit sticky. It melts into a fluffed cream instead of a latexy marshmallow. It’s less sweet than the coating, but on it’s own it’s still throat searing.
It’s cute to look at and of course quite economical as far as Halloween-themed edible decorations go. While I found the Easter ones a little off-putting because part of me wanted them to be flavored, this one actually reminded me a little of candy corn. Not enough to make me buy it again.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This mix has three different varieties, one for each of the main characters in Eclipse: Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate (Jacob), Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate (Bella) and Caramel filled Milk Chocolate (Edward). The bag contains 20 pieces and weighs 10 ounces. As the Halloween candy was just being placed on the shelves in stores over the weekend, I didn’t get this on sale, so yes, I paid $3.99 for less than a pound of chocolate candy from the drug store.
The package design is rather nice, I like the new deco style Sky Bar logo design, it’s not completely subservient to the Twilight logos & look, but does well in combination. The artwork on the package shows what’s inside very well, and describes the product accurately. It’s a peeve of mine when makers of licensed products just think they can slap a logo and movie key art on there and folks don’t care what’s actually inside.
The Bella themed piece is Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate. The shape is of a large heart with the Bella name on it. Each piece is a half an ounce, so it’s a pretty large bite of chocolate. It’s about an inch and a half long and over a half an inch thick.
Necco is very helpful on the back of the package and lists the ingredients and nutrition information for each variety, so I was able to see that the ingredients were actually pretty good. It’s made with real chocolate for the shell and the center “truffle” is also real chocolate with a small boost of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil (not that much though based on how low it is on the list, right before soy lecithin).
The center isn’t quite crumbly, but is dry and has a melt like a Frango. It has some cocoa flavors, but mostly it’s a sweet balance of vanilla and the milk of the chocolate coating. There’s a slight grain to it, which is made of salt. This definitely gave it some interest and kept it all from being sickeningly sweet. It wasn’t very strong on the chocolate front and definitely didn’t have the vibe of an actual chocolate truffle.
80 calories each.
The Caramel filled Milk Chocolate piece for Edward Cullen is very nicely crafted. It’s the Cullen crest in milk chocolate.
I opened a few pieces and they were all in excellent condition, glossy and with nicely created details.
So for the vampire character, inside his family crest is a salty, caramelized sugar syrup. This was by far the saltiest piece of the set (though only 25 mg per piece). The milk chocolate smells sweet and milky. The piece has a good snap and gooey bite because of the syrupy nature of the caramel filling.
The first thing I got from the caramel was a salty hit, the second thing was a cereal flavor note. I can’t quite describe it, it’s like a combination of butter flavoring and Cheerios or Sugar Pops.
It’s very sweet, a little too much for me as it gives me a sore throat, but it is a mercifully appropriately sized piece.
Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate is the piece themed for Jacob, the werewolf. I guess peanuts are earthy and wolves are wild animals, so maybe that’s the connection.
The little medallion is cute, it’s a oval with a howling wolf relief and full moon.
The whole piece is soft. It has a good roasted peanut scent that has a light floral and grassy note. The filling however, disappoints. It’s missing something, it’s like it’s been watered down (or perhaps oiled up with some partially hydrogenated palm oil). The center is smoother than a Reese’s PB Cup and less crumbly, but it needs to melt a bit to get the flavor out. So it’s greasy and just unsatisfying. The only thing I can say is that the piece is balanced well on the sweetness and didn’t really need more salt in it.
80 calories each.
10 of the pieces in the package if 20 were Peanut Butter. The breakdown for the others as 6 for Caramel and 4 for Truffle. So it’s either random assortments, or the peanut butter is deemed to be the most popular (or possibly cheapest).
I’m not fond of the Sky Bar, but these strike me as much better than that. First, everything was fresh (and I’m pretty sure that every Sky Bar I’ve ever bought was three years old) - even when a candy is on the cheap side, freshness does wonders. I wasn’t keen on the use of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, but I don’t think it comprised a large amount of the product. I like the choice of these flavor variations, the vanilla cream piece I tried last year was simply uninspired. These feel like they could stand on their own without the licensing tie-in. I would never spend this much on this quality of chocolate if I didn’t have this blog, so if you’re interested in these, I wouldn’t spend more than $2.99 - hopefully you can find them for $2.00 or so on sale.
I couldn’t find any statement about gluten on the package, though no wheat ingredients are mentioned. It has all the other allergens though - soy, dairy & peanuts plus processed on equipment with eggs & tree nuts.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Nut brittle has to be one of the simplest and heartiest candies. It’s just a boiled mixture of corn syrup and sugar binding some nuts together. I’m rather keen on nut brittles, but they’re often difficult to eat and portion. A bar format solves most of that.
The Old Dominion Peanut Bar keeps it simple. There are only four ingredients: Peanuts, Sugar, Corn Syrup and Salt. That’s it, no preservatives ... not even any butter or cream, so it’s good for vegans. It’s a huge bar as well, 2.25 ounces for only 80 cents or so. Since it’s mostly peanuts there’s a lot of protein in there - 10 grams. Of course nuts also come with some fat, 8 grams in this case, but the sugar is actually pretty low for candy coming in at 20 grams ... and while we’re at it, 4 grams of fiber.
Technically I don’t consider this bar to be a brittle. A nut brittle has a little baking soda in it that makes the candy part bubble a little bit to create a foamy texture, easy crunch and lightly salty flavor. It’s different from a toffee coated nut as well, as toffee uses milk, butter and/or cream. So this is just a hard candy - a boiled sugar mixture that hardens and holds the nuts together while adding a sweet toasted sugar flavor.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s dead simple. So the slab doesn’t necessarily look all that appealing. Unless you love peanuts. Then you’ll not only love the glossy abundance, but the wonderful fresh roasted scent.
The peanuts are also big. The crunch is very nutty, but the sugary coating has a nice toasted and salty flavor of its own. The fatty peanuts give it all a bit of a creamy toffee note even though there’s no dairy in there. The light color of the candy and nuts is a little deceptive, I though it’d be rather flavorless, but it’s quite deep. There’s a mix of the roasted notes of the peanuts which is sometimes grassy and sometimes quite dark like coffee. The bar is very filling. I honestly thought half of it was plenty for a little pick me up. While it tastes rather salty, it’s only 157 mg for the whole bar.
There are a few brands of these bars, the nationally distributed and easiest to find brands are the Mars Munch Bar (which has butter in it) and the Planters Peanut Bar. Since I found the Planters bar first, I thought I’d compare.
The Planters bar is 1.6 ounces and the same price at the Rite Aid. They’re distributed by Kraft, which now owns Planters nuts. The ingredients are a little more complex for a product where you get less: Peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, salt, peanut oil, TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness.
Aside from the size difference, they looked rather similar. The Planters bar had a bit more of a honey tone to the candy portion.
The taste of the Planters bar was a little more roasted and didn’t seem as fresh and crunchy as the Old Dominion. But it also had some darker toasted and charcoal notes that some folks might prefer.
The size difference and the fact that the Old Dominion doesn’t need any preservatives has me on their side for this one. The salt was more forward in the flavor profile, even though the salt concentration was similar. But in a pinch, I’d buy the Planters again.
These sort of nut bars are an excellent summer candy, they do well in the heat but still provide a powerful and satisfying mix of nuts with a sugary crunch and just the right hint of salt. They’re easy to carry around and even break up to share. They, however, don’t fare as well in damp conditions like high humidity unless consumed immediately.
So far I’ve been very pleased with the Old Dominion products I’ve been getting at the drug store. Very fresh and the fact that there are so few ingredients is actually refreshing.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
As with many sour iterations of popular products the package went for yellow and green, the seemingly universal colors of tartness.
The package design is cute. In this case the blue Dots logo dominates to give cohesion with the other boxes on the shelf (currently I’ve been seeing classic Dots, Yogurt Dots and Tropical). The little Dots themselves are depicted in each of the five colors with puckery faces. They’re called The Dot that bites back!
The flavor assortment is middle of the road, though not just a sour dusted version of the regular fruit Dots (which come in Strawberry, Cherry, Lemon, Lime & Orange), these are Grape, Orange, Lemon, Green Apple and Cherry
The Dots are a traditional smooth jelly center with a sour coating that includes citric acid and malic acid. Dots boxes are wrapped in cellophane so they’re soft and fresh.
The sour coating is definitely tart, the kind of sour that makes the back of my jaw tingle.
Grape - very sour and quite artificial but ultimately a chewy gum drop version of Pixy Stix.
Orange - so sour it’s almost salty at first, but the zesty notes of the gum drop give this a flavor depth that few other sour citrus candies have.
Lemon - really more like lemon peel than lemon juice, it’s fresh, bitter and tangy all at once. It really gave the feeling of those shaken lemonades from the fair.
Green Apple - not quite a Jolly Rancher, it’s far too tart. It’s more than just the chemical green apple, there is a hint of apple juice in there.
Cherry - this one was simply caustic. The cherry flavors were artificial and buried beneath the sourness, it was like fruity/woodsy toilet cleaner. I do admit that the cherry notes, once the sour is gone are rather deep, but still not my thing.
The smooth gum drop centers set these apart from other sour dusted jelly candies like Sour Patch Kids. They’re chewy, but kind of a slick smoothness that the others don’t have, there’s no graininess after the sour sanding dissipates. They don’t even stick to the teeth in the quite the same way as regular Dots. They’re a great value for only a dollar and some nice deep flavors. I found myself avoiding the cherry and green apple, but I’m sure that I could find friends (or husbands) to share those with.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.