Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Their Limited Edition Egg Nog Nips variety caught me by surprise, mostly because I didn’t know they made seasonal versions.
The box is the same format and size as the standard Coffee Nips. It holds 4 ounces and sells for a little over a buck at grocery and drug store chains. I felt like the box could have held another ounce or two, but you know that whole “settling may occur during transit” may come into play. Each piece is individually wrapped, and the whole box is also sealed in a clear cellophane wrapper to protect the contents.
The pieces are large and nicely domed. They don’t smell like much, so it wasn’t until I popped one in my mouth that I got a sense of what was different.
They’re sweet and smooth with a slow and satisfying dissolve. The creamy flavor has a strong milky flavor mixed with notes of nutmeg and a touch of clove and cinnamon plus vanilla. The custardy candy is pleasant and isn’t too cloying. I might have preferred a little stronger kick of spice to it, as it is it’s not that different from the Butter Rum Nips. (Though a hint of rum might be nice, too.)
A gingerbread version probably isn’t that far behind.
Made on equipment that also processes peanuts. Gluten free. Contains dairy, soy and coconut.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Werther’s Original Hard Candies are truly a classic around the world, a kind of standard for hard candy butterscotch. They’re made by August Storck and named for the town where the candy company was formed, Werther in the Westphalia region of Germany. The company was founded in 1903 and may have come up with a version of the Original Hard Candy around 1909 through the efforts of one of the company’s confectioners, Gustav Nebel.
The first branded name of the candy emerged in 1969 when they began selling them as Werthers Echte in Germany, and then in the 1980s they became a world-wide brand under the English name of Werther’s Original.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, glucose syrup (from wheat or corn), cream, butter, whey, salt, soy lecithin and vanillin. There are no partially hydrogenated oils in there, no filler oils. For the most part it’s sugars and dairy ingredients with a splash of salt (about 15 mg per piece). The calorie count is higher than other hard candies, because of the fat content that’s usually absent from pure sugar candy. So these have about a half a gram of fat per candy and less than 25 calories each.
Each is wrapped in a mylar and clear cellophane wrapper. The gold sparkle is hard to miss in a candy dish. For a hard candy, they do a good job of straddling the world of durability and decadence.
The pieces are about 1.2 inches long and .8 inches wide. They’re smooth and nicely domed with a small depression in the top. They fit the mouth nicely and dissolve smoothly and slowly. The flavor is very well rounded, a hint of salt, a creamy burn sugar note and little hint of vanilla. The texture is exceptionally smooth and dense, there are no voids at all. But in addition to the creamy melt, they are quite crunchy if you’re a chewer. (And I am.)
They’re easy to savor, and provide a little more substance than a straight sugar item like a Butterscotch Disk, which is really only flavored like scorched sugar. There are other candies like the Werther’s and companies like Life Savers and Hershey’s have tried to enter the same market. But there’s really no need to try others. The Werther’s are superb. They’re easy to find at drug stores and discounters. The ingredients are decent enough and the price is pretty reasonable. The only issue I have with them is that they can get sticky in humid or hot environments. It doesn’t ruin the taste, but does mar the lovely appearance of the pieces when unwrapped.
It would be nice if they’d make them gluten free, though. Contains milk, soy and wheat.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
They’re called Werther’s Original Caramel Apple Filled Hard Candies and are a bit of a curiosity to me. They’re a green apple filling covered with a hard shell of the famous Werther’s butter toffee candy.
The objective is to emulate a caramel coated green apple.
The ingredient list for this strange candy creation is, well, long. Here’s another example of a European candy (like the downscale version of Panda Licorice) that uses glucose-fructose syrup, which is the same as High Fructose Corn Syrup, except it’s made from something other than corn. There are other fun things in there like artificial colors though it does use actual concentrated apple juice.
They look like a nice candy from the outside. They were in good shape, no crushed or sticky pieces. They’re hard and glossy and smell buttery-sweet. The candy shell is exactly what I’d expect a Wether’s candy to taste like. It’s silky smooth and sweet with a hint of salt. The shell is thin and the center is soft. It’s easy to just chew up the candy, which I ended up doing most of the time. The center is a soft goo with an apple flavoring, kind of like apple juice instead of a Jolly Rancher candy. It’s sweet and flavorful but without an artificial sourness to it.
Overall, it’s an interesting take on the apple and caramel combination. Sweet, salty and a little fruity. I ate the whole bag (which wasn’t hard considering that the fact that for a buck there were only 12 pieces in it. I don’t think I’d buy them again, but I do think they’re better than I gave them credit for in the concept stage.
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).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.