Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Ghirardelli family owned and ran the company until the 1960s when the company was sold to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company (makers of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat), then in the 1980s Golden Grain was swallowed up by Quaker Oats (the Pennsylvania treat). About 6 years later Quaker sold Ghiradelli off and it was once again an independent entity, if only for about six years when in 1998 it was bought up by Lindt and Sprüngli of Switzerland (which was making chocolate only seven years longer than Ghiradelli).
I mention all of this because there was something vaguely familiar about this bar called Ghirardelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree when I picked it up and it took me a while to figure it out. A couple of years ago I reviewed Lindt Excellence Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt. While I found Lindt’s a good bar, it’s either the quality of the Ghirardelli chocolate or the addition of almonds that really make Ghirardelli’s bar special.
The bar’s mold is nicely designed. Each of the eight sections include the Ghirardelli eagle logo. The molding is overall good, though there are some voids and bubbles on the front of the bar, I didn’t notice anything else amiss when I snapped the bar in half or inspected the bottom of the bar.
I didn’t think it smelled particularly special, like brownies, which in itself is a tantalizing scent, but really didn’t do the rest of the bar justice.
The bar is called Intense Dark but I can’t find anything that says what the percentage of cacao is for the bar. The appearance is dark like coffee with a light reddish hue to it. The bar has a liberal sprinkling of crushed almonds in it and of course large flakes of sea salt.
The flavors of the chocolate are very mild, but a good blend of hot cocoa, coffee and woodsy tobacco. The almonds give a fresh crunch and the light sprinkling of salt doesn’t overwhelm any of the other elements.
It’s an extremely munchable bar, not too dark for a snack but still more sophisticated than a standard Dove or plain Ghirardelli bar. I didn’t expect to like the bar so much since it’s such a simple idea and construction, especially since I had the nut-less Lindt version before. The freshness of the elements and well executed format just come together so well here. I wish that Ghirardelli didn’t feel the need to use dairy (milk fat) in their dark chocolate though, it would make this a much more accessible bar. (It’s also made in a facility that processes peanuts as well.)
Friday, September 2, 2011
Wonka has a strong tradition of sugar candies, as the brand originated with Sunline, makers of SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and Fun Dip (Lik-M-Aid). One of their legacy candies is Laffy Taffy. It’s just fruity taffy with the added bonus of a joke or two on the wrapper.
Back when I was a kid Laffy Taffy was known as Tangy Taffy and was sold in large flat bars similar to Jolly Rancher Stix (well, bigger than that). They came in intense and artificial flavors like Green Apple, Watermelon and Banana. After the Nestle takeover of Wonka they made some changes, like dumping Wacky Wafers (photo) and changing Tangy Taffy to Laffy Taffy.
Laffy Taffy still comes in bars, but the most common product I see are these little two inch long pieces. Each piece is about 35 calories and is two bites. They come in tubs and of course are a staple of pinatas and Halloween bags.
They’re soft and usually take on the shape of the package, but they’re very easy to get out of the plastic wrapper once opened. It’s a true taffy, there are no egg products in there like Bonomos or Doschers taffy have. There’s a touch of oil, so they’re not completely fat free (about a half of a gram of fat per piece).
Strawberry is pretty, very pink and fragrant. It’s like cotton candy or lemonade. The flavor isn’t very strong, lightly tangy and sweet with a well moderated fake strawberry flavor. There are little snaps of salt and tartness throughout. The chew is long and steady and quite smooth.
Banana - this is an intense fake banana candy. The banana is intense enough that it gave me a cool feeling on my tongue, similar to the effect of nail polish remover in both the tingling and the strange caustic scent. I like fake banana, so the sweetness and weird artificial flavor was fun for me. Your mileage may vary.
Sour Apple - if they called this green apple, I don’t think I’d have much of an issue. However, with the word sour in there, I have certain expectations, such as tartness. This was not sour. It was not even particularly vivid, just a mild fake green apple flavor. The texture is smooth and chewy and there’s a strange salty note to it that bugged me in this instance.
Grape is purple and the taffy version of a grape SweeTart. It’s zippy with a purely artificial flavor that’s a cross between grape juice, straight malic acid and pen ink.
The jokes on them are true groaners like “How do billboards talk?” (Sign Language!) and truly poorly written ones like “What kind of chain is edible?” (A Food Chain!)
I’ve grown out of these, for my fruit chews I prefer something a little tamer and friendly like Skittles. But these have the advantage of being vegetarian (no gelatin) over products like Starburst or Bonomos. They’re Kosher; there are no nut or gluten statements on the package.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’ve seen Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies in stores for years. And for all that time, I not only didn’t know what they were, I really had no curiosity. But as the Candy Blogger, I felt it was my duty to pick them up and give them a try. So I bought some.
I got the package home, opened it up and the devils were hard as rocks. I must have gotten an old bag. So I kind of dismissed it mentally. About a year later a co-worker gave me a bag and I experienced the same issue - they were rock hard.
Brach’s is now owned by Farley’s and Sathers and recently did a complete re-design of their packaging earlier this year. So when I spied the new, bolder purple and pink wrapper at the drug store, I thought this was a signal that the candy was fresh. (The expiration was March 2012.)
I was still puzzled though, and part of it is because I have no awareness at all of this candy. There are plenty of candies, food, novels and movies that I’ve never tried but I’m at least able to identify. There’s nothing remotely familiar about this candy, probably because no one else makes a version of it. The package describes it as:
So the internet and friends will not solve this mystery for me, I had to open a bag for myself. Sure enough, this batch was not rock hard and it certainly did smell like maple and peanuts. So far so good.
The candy outside isn’t some sort of maple flavored white chocolate (though I’d actually love to try real white chocolate made with maple sugar ... someone, could you work on that?). The coating is like a dried fudge or frosting glaze.
The ingredients don’t really explain the candy very well either: Sugar, Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed, Emulsified With Soy Lecithin), Modified Corn Starch, Maple Syrup, Gelatin, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1. Freshness Preserved By TBHQ and Citric Acid.
So what I’m expecting is some sort of maple fudge covered peanut. What I got instead was a muddly wad of confusion. It was soft. I bit into it and it was like a peanut butter cookie, with a strong maple flavor to it. The center was more like a soft dough then a fudge. There’s gelatin in there and oodles of fat (from the peanuts themselves and the various added oils) but it doesn’t taste like it at all. It’s dry.
The other thing is that there is no whole peanut in there. Granted, I only expected there to be one because the shape of the candy seemed rather like a coated peanut. Instead it’s little ground up peanut bits, like a chunky peanut butter. I figure this can’t be right. I’ve gotten a batch that wasn’t cured properly or maybe one where they left out the peanuts inside of all of them. So back to the store.
So this is bag number four. This one also has a far off expiration date, January 2012 and the new package design. The cross section above shows the detail a bit better. There are chunks of peanuts in some sort of soft, not quite crumbly, doughy fudge.
The whole effect is fine, just not quite what I was expecting. For what it is, it’s certainly different. It’s sweet, but the robust peanutty-ness balances that pretty well. There’s a little hint of salt and the maple is a more defined sweetness that’s not as sticky, more woodsy. It’s more like a snack, more like a cookie than a candy.
Just about every other candy I’ve had that’s been made by a major company for at least 50 years has its imitators. For some reason no one else makes Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies
Here’s an old ad from LIFE magazine featuring the Maple Nut Goodies. It also shows Iced Jelly Cones and Chocolate Ripple Nougats, anyone else remember those?
Friday, July 15, 2011
I saw this at Target, Market Pantry Chocolate Covered Malted Milk Balls - Milk Chocolate with a little tag next to it that said it was a new item. I figured for less than $2.00 for more than a quarter of a pound, I should take a gamble on them (naturally, that gamble also means sharing the results with readers).
The package is spare but accurate, there are a bunch of milk chocolate covered malted milk balls in there. It’s a bit generic, but it was enticing enough to catch my eye.
The malt balls are about the same size as Whoppers. The chocolate coating is thin, but of course made of real milk chocolate (not that simulated product on Whoppers). There’s a thin glaze on the balls, which keeps them from sticking together and of course gives them their attractive shine. It does keep it from melting right away though, but with minimal “waxy” notes. The milk chocolate is quite sweet and has the typical milky flavor profile of mediocre American milk chocolate.
The malt center is crunchy and has a tight, small bubble texture. It dissolves well or provides a delightful crunch, depending on what sort of consumer you are. The flavor is not overly malty, it’s more of a salty rice cereal flavor instead of a deep malty flavor. Still, it was satisfying and I found myself eating them without getting distracted by any weird deflated ones or off flavors.
I don’t know quite what all my criteria are for the perfect malt ball, but these aren’t there. The chocolate isn’t quite good enough, though I do like this ratio. The malt center has a great texture for people who prefer that sort of melt in your mouth delicate style, I kind of like the rustic ones that are more like Cap’n Crunch.
I’ve heard rumors that Brach’s has re-introduced their classic real milk chocolate Malt Balls, but since I haven’t found those, these are an admirable substitute, especially as a movie snack. The price is great, too, though keep your eyes out for sales. Though it says 5 ounces on the bag, because of the aerated nature of the centers, the volume felt like a lot of candy.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Russell Stover makes a coconut version of the nest, which is kind of like a milk chocolate coconut haystack. This purple mylar package features a life sized image of the candy on the front, and I have to admit that this is one of their least attractive packages I’ve seen.
The ingredients are pretty clear that this is a pastel coating confection studded with crushed chocolate cookie pieces (a la Oreos). The first ingredient is sugar, the second is fractionated palm kernel oil and partially hydrogenated palm oil.
I went into this knowing that there was no real cocoa butter in here (which at least Hershey’s still uses as a portion of their white confection these days). The scent of the product smells a bit oily and a lot like Easter, sweet with just a touch of milk and fake vanilla.
The piece is exactly two inches around. Though I think it’s supposed to look hand crafted and random like the original Coconut Nest did, it’s molded, which gives it a glossy shine but an indistinct shape. I mean, if they’ve gone to the trouble to create a mold, I think it should look like a nest, not a lump.
The confection is pure throat searing sweetness. There’s a touch of milk flavor to it and a reasonably smooth melt. But mostly it’s a sticky sweet fake white chocolate wax. The cookie bits provided the only respite, but were far too few. They’re cheap enough that I think there should have been more of them.
I was glad to try their version of the cookies ‘n cream genre and I’m glad that I’m only out fifty cents instead of being forced to go for a couple of dollars for one of the flat rabbits made of the stuff.
If someone is a die hard oiled sugar fan, this might be a good option. I know that Russell Stover is capable of better when it comes to White Chocolate because they did a really admirable job with their Peppermint Bark Snowman last year. I think Hershey’s C’n'C is better, but I’m holding out hope that some day, someone is going to make a real white chocolate version of cookies ‘n cream again. (Green and Black’s would do a fine job of it.)
Friday, April 8, 2011
I was these The Original Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Gummy Candy at Cost Plus World Market and again at Target. Since it was only a buck at Target, I decided to pick it up. But it’s not exactly an Easter item, even though it was shelved with the Easter candy. Sure, there’s a rabbit, but not everything that features a rabbit is supposed to be Easter themed. After all, no one goes around saying that the Velveteen Rabbit is an Easter book.
The candies are packaged and sold by Frankford Candy of Philadelphia, made in China and licensed from Frederick Warne & Co of London.
The box holds 1.8 ounces of candy which amounts to five rather large gummy pieces. They’re each in a little compartment in a clear plastic tray. That is sealed in a plastic sleeve and the box is also taped shut. (It’s already known that Peter Rabbit is wiley.) It’s a lot of packaging for very little candy.
The gummis are about 2 inches tall if they’re standing upright with ears pricked. They’re made of various colors of gummy, the body is a mostly opaque light brown and the clothes are wholly opaque white or blue. The other details, such as the eyes and whiskers are made of some sort of frosting or sugar.
They’re thick and soft and quite nicely detailed, though the brown color gives the impression that the flavor will be something like caramel or perhaps cocoa.
Three of the figures were of Peter Rabbit (leaving some limits to the narrative of imaginative play if these are more toys than candy) and one Jemima Puddle-Duck and the Fox who tried to steal her eggs.
The package gives no indication of what flavor they are and neither does smelling them. They smell like styrofoam packaging, cinnamon breakfast syrup and flip flops. The gummis are soft and pliable (except for the frosting whiskers and buttons) and even sticky enough to allow them to adhere to glass. The flavor is probably strawberry, but the plastic flavors pretty much overwhelm them. The chew is smooth though I really couldn’t stand more than a bite or two before wondering if that weird burning sensation in my mouth was from the gummis - it wasn’t like eating too much sour candy, it was more like that feeling of too many chili peppers (without the actual heat).
I’m usually suspicious of the quality of candy made in China. I know that only a very small fraction is made by companies who do not abide by clean and safe practices. But I still get concerned. In this instance, it doesn’t matter that I don’t care for the origination of the candy, they taste terrible. The flavor is so muddled with the plastic notes, it’s hard to imagine that I’m not eating a toy. But as a toy, they’re not too bad, just don’t leave them out in the rain.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Willy Wonka invented the Everlasting Gobstopper, a candy for children with very little pocket money. The basic concept behind a jawbreaker style candy is that they last a long time. The current, smaller versions of the Everlasting Gobstopper are not everlasting. In fact, they’re maddenly short lived, which is fine because they come in boxes that hold dozens of them. For quite a few years the Everlasting Gobstoppers have come in seasonal varieties, such as the Snowballs (white, green and red) for Christmas and Heartbreakers (thinner shells and heart shaped). For Easter there are Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper EggBreakers.
I love the little box. It holds 3.5 ounces and I picked it up for $.99 at Target, though I’ve seen it for as much as $1.59 at other stores. The box is really compact and cleverly designed and decorated. It’s easy to flip the little window open to dispense and the box holds what feels like a lot of candy. I’ve seen Wonka use these before with their Wonka Runts Freckled Eggs.
The ovoids are about 3/4 of an inch high. They eggs come in five glossy colors: yellow, turquoise, green, purple and light red.
The outer color is flavored, but it’s all very light. The lemon is just a kiss of sweet lemon essence. The purple is more like a bouquet of lilacs than fruit-flavorful, the red is a dash of berry and green might be a just a whiff of apple.
The dissolve is smooth, smoother than most other jawbreakers on the market. The layers underneath become lightly tangy though no more flavorful. After two thin layers the shell on the compressed dextrose center is easily crunched. The centers are white and if they’re flavored it’s something generic. I get a bit of pineapple from it, but it could be lemon or even orange for all I can tell.
It doesn’t matter that everything is so muted. The look, sound, texture and the interactivity is what makes this a special candy. They’re lovely to look at, sturdy and are simply interesting to eat. The shape is mouth friendly (not quite a friendly as the Heart Breakers) and the flavor array is spot on. I know they could be more intense, but I liked the subtlety of them.
I plan on picking up more of these, especially if I see them on sale after Easter even though the regular Wonka Gobstoppers are about half the price.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Milk Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow. It’s a single Peep dipped partially in milk chocolate. Little did I realize that there were more in the family lurking at other nearby markets. (I went to RiteAid, Walgreen’s & CVS.)
Upon visiting Target over the weekend I found the other iterations of Chocolate Dipped Peeps. The first I’ll start with is the Peeps Dark Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow.
The package from Target holds only two Peeps and clocks in at an even one ounce and 110 calories. So it’s a very spare treat when it comes to calories but it looks quite decadent. The package is also $1.59, which I thought was more than steep for a mostly sugar candy. I’m sure they’re available on sale at some point, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try them.
The dark chocolate is sweet but has a potent bitter note as well with some basic cocoa flavors. The melt is smooth but with a dryness as well. Most of the time I ate around the edges, which meant that I was getting far more chocolate in the early bites in proportion to the marshmallow.
One of my pet peeves with Peeps is the eyes. Are they edible? Many times I find them in my mouth and think that there’s an errant piece of plastic in my candy. Lately I’ve taken to picking they eyes off before consuming. This also prevents Peeps peeking. It also leads to a pile of eyes.
At the end of my review of the plain Peeps I wished that they made a flavored version. (Really, the press release about these new products doesn’t actually mention this version.)
So, here we go, Just Born does make Peeps Milk Chocolate Dipped Chocolate Mousse Flavored Marshmallow. Wow, that’s a big name. But it’s also a pretty big morsel of candy. I like the fact that the Peeps are un-conjoined. Up until this introduction, I don’t think they ever sold separated Peeps before. We can now admire them in 360 degrees.
The Chocolate Mousse Peeps are usually found in the shape of Bunnies or during other seasons, Reindeer. I was hoping the fact that they were chocolate would mean no artificial colors, but for some reason the ingredients say there’s Yellow #5 in there.
In case you couldn’t tell from the first photos, the Peeps are just dipped at the very bottom. Though it doesn’t look like much from the side, the bottom is quite a large surface area of chocolate.
The Peep itself tastes like weak hot chocolate, sweet and though the sugar crust is grainy, the marshmallow is smooth and creamy. The milk chocolate base is sweet as well and without much of a chocolate punch but still has a good melt.
Two of these was a good treat. They took a little while to eat and enjoy, so for an indulgence that’s a little lighter in calories, it’s a good choice.
At this point I’m pinning all of my hopes on the Peeps Dark Chocolate Dipped Chocolate Mousse Flavored Marshmallow. It has several of the things I was looking for, a less sweet marshmallow and the dark chocolate.
I haven’t been fond of Peeps other chocolate covered versions, mostly because the marshmallow ends up becoming a gooey, syrup mess. Also, they were using artificial colors for the marshmallow centers, which didn’t make much sense to me at all - the sugar crusted Peeps are uncolored.
But based on the other versions of the dipped Peeps, we were off to a good start.
The dark chocolate is only slightly more intense than the milk chocolate variety, but is blessedly less sweet. This means that the sweetness level of the whole thing is brought down to a level where I could concentrate on the combination of textures instead of the throat-searing sugar. The chocolate melted quickly and with a light coolness. The dark flavors were even slightly bitter for a moment. The sugar crust gave a grainy crunch to the marshmallow, which was light and airy.
For the first time I feel like someone made Peeps that were actually meant to be eaten and not used for decoration or as a biodegradable toy. I can only applaud this effort by Just Born who seems to have had a few mis-steps in extending the Peeps brand over the past five years. (You can only do so much with novel colors and then there were the made in China Halloween version.) Here’s the thing though: A See’s Scotchmallow Egg is about the same price, ounce for ounce. Sure, it has caramel in it, and that’s hard to compete with. But there are lots of other excellent chocolate and marshmallow products out there, especially around Easter. I’m not going to kid myself that $1.59 is a great deal for cuteness ... though these definitely are the first and only Peeps I have actually eaten willingly. (All others were consumed with a sense of duty for the blog.)
I still might not buy these for myself, but I can recommend them and I like the direction this trend is going in.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.