Monday, February 13, 2012
Over the past seven years or so I’ve been very hesitant to do reviews of toffees. I’m not certain why, because I love the stuff. But when it’s offered as a sample, I usually decline. Perhaps I know that I can’t be even slightly objective because it’s pretty hard to make bad toffee. And if you like toffee like I do, you probably don’t need a review. (It’s also possible that all toffee is actually good.)
So that brings me to Poco Dolce, an artisan style toffee maker in San Francisco. I’ve bought their toffee quite a few times. (The photo at the right here is from a package I picked up in 2008. I’m pretty sure I also picked up a similar box in 2009, and have certainly sampled their products at every Fancy Food Show they’ve exhibited at. Other mentions on the site here with a photo, here in 2010 and here in 2008.)
While in San Francisco at the Fancy Food Show last month, I sampled Poco Dolce’s Popcorn Toffee. There’s no better place to pick it up than at their store, which is in an area known as Dogpatch. (Also home to Recchiutti’s candy kitchen and Dandelion Chocolate.) I popped in and they had exactly what I wanted, a beefy tin jam packed with little toffee squares covered in dark chocolate.
Their Toffee Tile products are molded pieces with little toffee centers. They’re gorgeous and usually individually wrapped in glassine sleeves or tucked into boxes. Their regular toffee square are a bit more rough and tumbled, enrobed and maybe a little more scuffed.
Inside the tin the toffee was protected in a cellophane sleeve. But it was completely full, not like some packages. Yes, it’s expensive stuff, too. It was $16 for the tin which holds a half a pound. So $32 a pound.
The toffee construction is simple. A light toffee, with a good buttery cleave to it, with a few pieces of popcorn in each piece. The pieces are each about one inch square, though some aren’t completely square. The toffee pieces are a little lofted in the center, especially if there’s a big piece of popcorn in there. But most of the popcorn is smaller bits. The flavor is really popcorny, though still there’s not a l of the actual stuff in there. It’s quite amazing how the buttery, salty notes of the toffee combine so well with the toasted corn flavors of the popcorn. The chocolate is dark and silky and does a great job of sealing in all the crunchy toffee goodness so that it doesn’t get soft and tacky.
This is a brilliant idea, wonderfully executed. I love the size of the pieces, the chocolate is excellent quality. Their toffee tiles are also great, but feature a much darker toffee and more chocolate by proportion. I like the more rustic style like this, but still with plenty of chocolate. The tin is great for serving, I would be happy to serve this to friends over to watch either Downton Abbey or a football game.
They also make a sampler package of their different varieties, so you can find your favorite. (The Double Shot Espresso is great but too strong for me to eat in the evening, the Burnt Caramel Toffee are sure to please everyone in a crowd.) Poco Dolce uses Guittard’s fair trade and sustainably grown chocolate in their products and all natural, locally sourced ingredients (wherever possible).
Friday, November 18, 2011
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a candy origin story quite like this before: The Original Harrogate Toffee was designed to clear the palate of the putrid taste of Harrogate’s Sulphur Water, famous in the 19th century for it’s healing properties.
Think about that for a moment. A candy was invented to cover up the taste of a drink that most of us would consider poison. (I’ve lived in an area with sulfur water before, we didn’t drink it.)
There’s no mention on their history page about the disposition of the Harrogate’s Suphur Water.
I bought my first tin of Farrah’s Original Harrogate Toffee (the larger of the two tins) back in 1995 when I first visited London. I picked up a few varieties of British-style toffee and this was the closest to what American’s think of as English Toffee. (That’s another long and convoluted thing I’m not going to get into right now.)
The tins are classic and honestly why I bought the candy both times.
The smaller tin holds 3.5 ounces, which ended up being 10 pieces of candy. The little toffee blocks were inside a cellophane pouch and wrapped individually in waxed paper twisted at the ends. Each piece is a little over a third of an ounce.
The ingredients are natural except for the flavoring. It includes lots of different kinds of sugar: sugar, glucose, cane sugar, demerara sugar, brown sugar, butter, soy lecithin and artificial lemon flavor.
The candy is a cross between hard candy and toffee. It’s mostly sugar but has a nice note of butter to it, which also gives it a cloudy appearance and interesting “cleave” when crunched. It’s sweet and has mild burnt and toasted sugar notes and a light kiss of lemon zest. It’s quite different from most other toffees or butterscotches.
The price is a bit much, but I assume I was paying for the tin. It was $5.99 for the teensy thing with its handful of candy in it. But it’s nostalgic and classic and the tin has a hinge on it and will likely find a spot in my desk for binder clips or flash drives once the candy is gone.
My desire for this may change if I find myself drinking a lot of sulfur water.
Monday, May 9, 2011
A few months ago I was contacted by Zeke’s Candy Company with an offer to try their Old Fashioned Cracked Butterscotch. I love butterscotch, but then I thought, what is butterscotch? Do I even know what the real stuff is beyond the artificially colored and flavored butterscotch disk hard candies that I grew up on?
Their website only added to the mystery, as there were no photos of the candy itself, just the containers. When it arrived, it was just as mysterious, a deep brown box. It rattled, like it was a jigsaw puzzle made out of ceramic. It was pretty heavy to, so this was some dense stuff. Inside were two sealed bags of powdery and jagged pieces. Pieces range in size from a half an inch across to an inch and a half.
The ingredients are simple: butter, cane sugar, unsulfured molasses, water, vinegar and salt. So there was no “flavor” for butterscotch, it was obviously what they did with these simple ingredients that made scotched this butter.
As an artisan candy, the pieces are not machine made in any fashion. They’re thin pieces of “bark” that are broken into pieces small enough to suck on and then tossed in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking together. This is a bit messy, as there is both a bit of powdery residue on the fingers and a few little shards in the bottom of the bag when you’re done. It also means that this candy really can’t be placed into a candy dish, it needs to be kept in an airtight container (a zipper plastic bag will do) or else it gets tacky.
Once the powered sugar is gone from their surface, it’s apparent to me that Butterscotch is just toffee cooked to a slightly different texture. Where toffee cleaves into crunchy pieces, butterscotch is like a hard caramel, it’s smooth and eventually warms enough to become a very stiff and sticky chew (but only do it if you have complete confidence in your teeth or dental work).
The flavor is great, full of deep notes of caramelized sugar, molasses, honey, toast and salt. It’s a slow candy, great for times when you need something to go with a pensive activity.
I had a really hard time not crunching on it, so it got to be a challenge for me to at least wait until it was soft enough to chew. I found the stuff satisfying and addictive at the same time. It’s nothing like any other butterscotch candies I’ve had, the deep creamy smoothness is so much better than a straight sugar and corn syrup base.
I don’t recommend it for humid areas as I did find that it got tacky and sticky if left uncovered even in the low moisture Southern California where I live. If you’re a fan of the style of hard lollipops from See’s, this is a great small piece version with fewer ingredients. I could see there being a few other versions of these, perhaps with nuts, cocoa or even some coffee.
Monday, April 25, 2011
P-Nuttles are a pure comfort candy. I associate them with vending machines and truck stops, and I can see why they’d be a favorite snack for both situations. They’re loaded with satisfying protein from the peanuts and a sweet crunch from the toffee coating. Throw in a little salt and it’s has a bit of a savory kick that makes it as much a snack food as a candy.
Peanuts that are individually covered in toffee are far easier to eat then barks or brittles, so I also congratulate Adams & Brooks on solving that dispensing issue.
I saw this new flavor announced last year at the Sweets and Snacks Expo and finally found it at my neighborhood Walgreen’s: P-Nuttles plus Coconut.
The concept is pretty simple, fresh roasted peanuts are coated in a coconut toffee. In addition to the toffee peanuts, a few coconut jelly beans are also thrown into the mix.
The peanuts are not large, but most are fresh and tasty. I ate about half of the bag and found only one bad nut. (It’s never fun, but this is the hazard with using natural ingredients.) The toffee coating varies, some had barely a sheen on them, but others a hefty shell. The flavor is sweet with a light touch of butter. The saltiness varies widely, as does the coconut flavor. Some were quite tropical tasting and others were very salty. I rather liked the variation. The jelly beans are small and pack a pretty good coconut zap. They’re sweet and chewy, though not terribly soft.
I didn’t get any coconut texture in any of this, which I quite enjoy. But the tropical coconut notes were a welcome addition to a rather comforting but bland peanut and toffee experience. I didn’t think I’d care of mixing jelly beans, a decidedly non-organic sort of texture product, with the more artisan peanuts covered in toffee. However, it worked very well. The smooth and consistent flavor of the jelly beans was a welcome sort of dependability when contrasting the varying peanuts and their cloaks of toffee.
Adams Brooks will be introducing more twists on the classic P-Nuttles later this year: P-Nuttles Peanuts Smokey Style and P-Nuttles Peanuts Chili*Lime.
The jelly beans contain confectioners glaze, so this combination is not vegetarian.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Wonka public relations folks sent me this box of their Wonka Exceptionals Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Eggs to review. The box is springy, and I’ll say it veers off towards the feminine in a whimsy sort of way. (The Dove chocolate line’s packaging is more towards elegant feminine sophistication.) But I can also see kids taking a liking to it for the brilliant purple and icons on the packages of flowers, vines and butterflies. They also come in another variety, Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall which I also have a sample of.
The box holds five milk chocolate eggs with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie and crunchy peanuts. Wonka also says that they’re made with natural ingredients, but doesn’t mention on the front that they’re also made with not-so-natural ingredients which include, in descending level of appearance, soy lecithin (I’m guessing GMO), modified cornstarch and high fructose corn sweetener (I never see that used in chocolate, but I do see it quite often in cookies and cereal products so I’m assuming it’s an ingredient in one of the inclusions).
My eggs were a little worse for their trek in the mail. I find that stuff that’s shipped to me actually ends up in worse condition than items I pick up in the stores, so I expect that this is a worst case scenario.
Since the portion is less than an ounce, the calorie count is much lower than some other “full serving” chocolate eggs. Both versions are 140 calories, and for a candy so high in fat, that’s a satisfying size. The Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate is already available in large bars or individually wrapped pieces. I reviewed them when they first came out last year. The combination of ingredients is interesting and definitely unique on the market at the moment.
The construction is simple, a 2.5” long and 1.5” wide egg is molded with mixed in items: crumbled cookies, toffee pieces and little bits of peanuts.
It smells green and nutty and a little milky. The crunch of the chocolate is good, it’s a little soft and immediately has a note of cinnamon and graham crackers. The toffee bits taste a little salty and the peanuts are few and far between but taste like they’re deeply roasted. The chocolate is mild and pleasant, it reminds me more of Cadbury than Nestle. It’s very sweet and at least the cookie bits provide a little relief from that.
It’s not that I loved this, but it’s so much better than Nestle’s other efforts like the Butterfinger Egg, it’s a wonder how they can continue making such waxy, poorly flavored chocolate when we now have proof that they know the difference.
I’m happy to report that there are fewer not-so-natural ingredients in this variety, just the soy lecithin.
White chocolate maybe the unofficial chocolate style of Easter and I was pleased to see that the white chocolate used here is the real cocoa butter variety.
The white and milk chocolate has a similar smooth texture, not quite Dove smooth, but smoother than other Nestle products. It’s quite sweet but has a milky taste and definite vanilla note to it.
The individually wrapped foil pieces are more consistently balanced between the milk and dark chocolate. I only had one sample of this so I can’t say it’s the same for all of them, but I felt there was too much milk chocolate and not enough white. Sometimes I find that white chocolate can taste a little off quickly, a little stale or rancid. In this case it just didn’t taste fresh to me, but I admit that it was stored with other flavored candies from Wonka, which might have contaminated it.
I like the shape, I like how thick it is and especially when there are chunks or layers in it, how it provides a nice cross section of flavors. The packaging isn’t as fun as the foil wrapped pieces, which I liked a little better, the colors on those are just as appropriate for Easter anyway.
It’s nice to see something a little different for Easter baskets or just snacking. These didn’t wow me with their ingenuity, but the quality difference from the earlier efforts from Wonka that were the Golden Creme Egg means that they’re winners just for showing up.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
One of the most popular chocolate brands in Europe is Milka. It’s currently distributed by the international food conglomerate Kraft but began its existence as a family chocolate brand made by Suchard back in the early 20th century. I tried the version that’s available in the States about four years ago.
Milka is, of course, known as milky chocolate, very similar in profile and price to Cadbury. However, instead of putting vegetable oil in the chocolate, Milka uses just a touch of hazelnut paste.
Milka is now widely available in the United States but I wanted to pick up some while I was in Europe, just in case it was a little different. I did find this assortment called Milka NAPS Mix in Germany. It features four different varieties of tiny bars: Alpenmilch, Crunchy Caramel, Erdbeer & Creme au Cacao.
The little bars are about 4.25 grams, individually wrapped and easy to identify your favorite. The bars are about 1.5 inches long.
The traditional Milka is just as I remember it. Milky, sweet, smooth and not very chocolatey. They’re a good candy and at this size, and excellent little tough-covering pick me up. The hazelnut is just a light hint of roasted nuts, not like a thick gianduia. It’s much creamier than I recall the American packaged bar I tried, though as someone who likes a lot of either chocolate in my chocolate or hazelnuts in my gianduia, this didn’t quite fit my personal profile.
The Milka Crunchy Caramel is the same little bar with some toffee chips in it. (Not Daim chips, for some reason.) I liked the crunchy texture and light salty hint, though sometimes they tasted a bit like butterscotch and not quite like toffee. This was my favorite of the mix, now I’m sorry I didn’t pick up the Daim version of Milka.
The Milka Erdbeer is the milk chocolate with dried strawberry bits in it. The strawberry bits taste real, but have a grainy quality to them that kind of ruins the texture of the chocolate at time. Still, the milk and strawberry flavor was great, it reminded me of neapolitan ice cream.
This was the only filled bar in the mix. The center was a thin little strip of chocolate creme. It really didn’t taste that much different than the standard Milka Bar, mostly because of the proportions. It had more of a chocolate frosting flavor to it though. It was my least favorite of the mix.
I like that Milka comes in so many different varieties and that the European versions also come in different sizes and seasonal variations. This box of chocolate though was a bit on the expensive side, compared to the large 100 gram (3.5 ounce) tablet bars at 3 Euros (about $4). Basically, I could have bought one of each of these varieties as a full sized bar for about the same amount of money, but had more than 3 times as much candy.
I have a dark chocolate version of a Milka bar at home, I’m hoping that’s a bit more to my personal liking, but mixes like this always have something to please most folks. (And I did finish most of the box without any help from anyone else.)
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
According to Wikipedia, the development tale is rather curious. Marabou, the preeminent Swedish chocolate company, approached Heath Bar back in the early 1950s for permission to license the Heath name and recipe to be produced for the Swedish/Norwegian marketplace. Heath said they couldn’t but did furnish the basic recipe so Marabou created the Daim Bar. The Daim went on to become quite a sensation, so much so that Hershey’s decided it needed its own crunchy toffee bar and copied the Daim in the US and called it Skor (along with the tag line of “The Taste of Sweden” in their launch advertising). The funniest part of the whole thing about Hershey’s marketing a copy of a Swedish candy that was a copy of an American candy was that Hershey’s ended up buying Heath Bar when they acquired Leaf Candy Company in 1996.
Marabou, in turn, was bought out by Kraft back in 1993 which distributes the Marabou chocolate products around the world. The easiest place to find Daim bars is at IKEA.
The bar does look a lot like the American Skor. It’s a smallish bar, flat and with a crisp buttery toffee center with a few bits of almonds in there. The milk chocolate coating is a little thicker on top with some attractive swirls and waves.
At only 28 grams (about .99 ounces) it’s a small bar but provides a lot of crunch.
I’ve bought this bar at least three different times for review on Candy Blog and each time I’ve managed to eat it before reviewing. (The photos here are from a 2008 episode where at least the bar made it into the studio for documentation.)
While I was in Europe I was pleased to see Daim widely available. Not only does it come in the familiar bar format, the toffee chips are also used in other co-branded confections, like a version of the Milka Bar (Jim’s Chocolate Mission has a review)
Since I knew I could find another bar in the States if I wanted it, I picked up this 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bag of Daim. The package says nothing else on the front - no description, no brand name ... just Daim. Not even the fact that this is not a bar but little chocolate covered nuggets. I guess the picture on the front says it all. My guess is since Daim is available in so many countries, it’s just confusing to say things, why not show them? The back of the package features micro-printing to accommodate at least 8 different language versions of the ingredients and still no actual name of the product. So I’m going to call these Daim Nuggets.
The little pieces are actually better, in my opinion, than the bar. I loved them. The chocolate is certainly not of excellent quality but good enough for this purpose. It’s milky and sweet and just creamy enough. It seals in the crunchy pieces of toffee to keep them from getting sticky and syrupy.
The toffee has a light burnt taste to it, plenty of milk and a touch of salt. It’s crunchy and every once in a while I think I got a little bit of an almond. The toffee is cooked to perfection - it’s crunchy but not too hard (having small pieces helps) and also doesn’t get tacky or stick to my teeth in large clumps.
I bet this is great on ice cream or added to cookies, of course it would need to come in larger bags, because this one is empty.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Red package describes it as crunchy toffee and roasted California almonds, covered in premium dark chocolate. Like the other packages, it includes a couple of properly scaled images of the candies. They’re about the same diameter as a nickel or a quarter (they varied) and were thick.
These remind me a lot of Marich Triple Chocolate Toffee, which were a mix of milk, white and dark chocolate covered toffee bits. They remind me so much of them that I’m going to guess that Marich is the maker of all three of these candies.
The pieces are lovely. They’re dark and glossy and have a light buttery scent.
The chocolate is a little softer than some other panned dark chocolate candies. The chocolate is only 50% cacao and contains some butter so it’s not a very dark chocolate. It’s in the semi sweet range with some nice fruity notes and goes well with the dairy and nutty notes of the toffee. The melt is silky and smooth.
The toffee centers are perfect, they’re crunchy and buttery without being sticky or tacky. Sometimes there were little bits of almond in them, but not all the time. The toffee was rather salty and the overall sodium for the package was 170 mg, which is a lot for a candy. But I do have to say that the salt provided a really nice pop to the flavors, it came first then the buttery notes and burnt sugar came forward.
The ratios of a panned piece of toffee mean that these had a lot of chocolate. The chocolate was easy to cleave off and eat or allow to melt off to get to the toffee center. Or of course there’s the “crunch it all together” method of consumption. All have merits.
If you’ve ever hoped for a more decadent version of Heath Bars or Skor, these may be for you.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts and of course has dairy, nuts and soy ingredients.
Trader Joe’s has done a nice job with all three of these products. They’ve balanced the portion size (a new area for them) with a product line that uses better ingredients than the products more widely available.
I see all three of these as great snacks for watching a movie. They’re large portions at two ounces, but still only $1.49 which is a more than respectable for indulging in the new Harry Potter. They’re not overly packaged, but each is bold and different enough to catch the eye, they’re easy to tear open and did a good job of protecting the product and kept it fresh.
If only they also made those Espresso Toffee Pillows in these bags, too.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.