Friday, April 20, 2012
I’m always scouring Trader Joe’s for new candy and was rewarded with this little tub of Trader Joe’s Almondictive Bits. It’s the familiar stackable clear plastic bin, this time with a name and design worthy of the Fearless Flyer.
A compulsively, compelling candy, caramelized almond morsels covered in dark chocolate
I often complain that Trader Joe’s doesn’t take the time to name their products beyond a description of what it actually is. So kudos to them for coming up with something original (so original that all google searches lead back to Trader Joe’s references). But most of all, I appreciate that Trader Joe’s used the slightly more proper addictive as their source instead of addicting. Of course since it’s a made up word, it also reminds me of the vindictive, and I don’t like mean almonds.
The pieces vary in size, some as large as a peanut but most about the size of a garden pea. The 45% dark chocolate coating is quite deep looking and glossy. There’s a slight coating of glaze on it, but it melts very quickly. The chocolate is a bit on the bitter side with lots of brownie batter and coffee notes to it. The centers are crispy caramelized chunks of almonds. Some pieces were pretty much all toffee while others were very nicely roasted almonds with a hint of crunchy toasted sugar.
The nuttiness made these just a little different from their chocolate covered toffee bits they also sell in the small bags by the register. It’s a satisfying combination of sweet, salty and bitter along with a creamy chocolate coating and different textures of crunch in the center. I wish the pieces were just slightly larger or more consistently large. The little bits at the bottom, which were like ball bearings and mostly chocolate weren’t doing much for me. These would be a great ice cream topping or added to a nuts & pretzel trail mix.
As with many of Trader Joe’s products, I don’t know where these were made or the ethical sourcing of the chocolate within. They are Kosher, contain dairy, almonds, soy and might have traces of wheat, peanuts and other tree nuts
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Werther’s Original is known best for its smooth hard caramel candies but they’ve recently ventured into the world of chocolate. Werther’s is made by Storck, a Germany candy brand that also makes Toffifay, Merci Chocolate, Mamba chews and Riesen caramels. It always seemed odd to me that their chocolate brand was under the Werther’s label instead of the Merci one, but perhaps they went with the one with the best brand recognition.
Werther’s Original Caramel Milk Chocolates feature the familiar amber yellow and brown branding of the Werther’s caramels. The bars come in a familiar style of upright, flat bar package. They’re 3.5 ounces and I found them at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck a piece. What was even better though was the the package once I opened it up. There were four little individually wrapped bars inside the easily re-closeable sleeve.
The little bars are about 25 grams each (.88 ounces) and the nutrition facts suggest that two are a serving, but I found one sufficient.
There were three varieties on sale at the store, so I bought all of them. Though the smart little bars are color coded, they’re not actually marked with the name of the variety on them. I found the purple and magenta confusing when not placed side by side.
I tried Werther’s Original CaraMelts before a few years ago, which is some sort of caramel flavored white confection and found it was not suited to my tastes, a little too fatty without much flavor. I was hoping this would have a little more depth.
The little bar is a ripple of that cream confection and a milk chocolate.
The melt is quite nice, extremely smooth and though sweet, it’s not sticky or too thick. The milk and dairy notes are clean, like fresh butter not powdered milk. The cocoa notes are rather faint overall, kind of a malty and toffee note to it, but not much more than that.
The Werther’s Original Dark Cream Caramel Chocolates in bar form are similar to another version that were introduced a couple of years ago called Werther’s Original Dark Cream Chocolates which were sold in bags and individually wrapped and shaped like the Werther’s Original hard caramels.
The difference between the two products, as far as I can tell, is shape and price.
When they named it Dark Cream, they really meant the cream part. The fat content on this particular bar is through the roof, at 164 calories per ounce with 79 of those fat calories. The second ingredient on the list after milk chocolate (I know, what makes it dark chocolate cream if it’s made with milk chocolate?) is cream powder then whole milk powder. You’d better like dairy.
The Dark Dream looked odd, the color was not quite appetizing. I can only describe it as a faded or dead looking brown, instead of a lively and rich red-brown like many chocolate bars are.
Even though I complained that there was a lot of milk chocolate in this bar, and a lot of milk, it still had a deeper cocoa flavor to it and was certainly less sweet than the Milk Cream version. The melt is very smooth and has a good flavor balance between the actual cream flavors and the toasty, woodsy cocoa notes.
The back of the package says Enjoy four individually wrapped bars of European Milk chocolate with pieces of crispy Werther’s Original Toffee.
The ingredients are much simpler as well, just real milk chocolate with lots of extra dairy fats and some toffee chips made with real butter.
The bar has the same faintly off color for the milk chocolate. I can only assume that the reason for that is because it’s diluted by all that extra milk and dairy in it.
The toffee chips are well distributed and at a good ratio to provide a lot of texture and flavor. The milk chocolate is smooth and buttery though again, not very chocolatey. The toffee chips have a good balance of crisp texture, easy crunch, salt and burnt sugar notes.
Overall the price was good for this set of bars, and I enjoyed the portion control that’s usually lacking in these large tablet bars. But the chocolate is weird, it’s too much dairy fat and not enough cocoa butter. I can see the appeal for some folks, especially those who like the mouthfeel of super-slick chocolate like Dove. But I want more chocolate punch in my chocolate.
The allergen list on these was long, pretty much the only thing it doesn’t contain and isn’t co-processed with is shellfish.
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.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.