Friday, December 8, 2006
This review is an attempt at disambiguation: there are two limited edition Hershey’s chocolate bars on the market right now, one with chocolate cookie bits and one with brownie bits.
I’d seen the Limited Edition Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Chocolate earlier this summer but didn’t pick them up because I was only seeing them in the large 4 ounce bar. Finally I found this single serving bar at the Dollar Tree. Lest I think I’m getting a freakishly old bar, I checked the date, which says that it’s going until 7D (April 2007).
The bar is composed of creamy Hershey’s milk chocolate with lots of little chocolate cookie bits in it. It is not unlike the Cookies ‘n’ Mint bar that I like so much, except that it’s missing the mint component.
The bar smells sweet and pleasant and on has a great crunch that gives a little additional dark cocoa hit to the bar.
The Limited Edition Brownies ‘n’ Chocolate bar is composed of creamy Hershey’s milk chocolate with lots of little chocolate brownie bits in it. The brownie bits are crumbly and more rustic feeling than the cookie bits. They add a sugary grain to the bar, and the whole bar seems slighly softer than the cookie bits one.
The expiration date is identical to the Cookies one, 7D.
As much as I hate to admit it, there is a slight difference between these two bars. The chocolate itself is the same though the Cookies one has more vanilla notes and the Brownies one has more fudgy chocolate taste. The Brownies one was crumbly and grainy tasting, like there were big sugar bits in it the way brownie batter does. The Cookies one tasted dry and crunchy, like Oreo tops.
Is one better than the other? Not really. They’re both kind of fun. They’re both way too sweet and made my throat hurt. They both contain my new pet peeve, PGPR.
The big thing I wanted to figure out was why they brought out these bars at the same time. The only thing that points to an answer is that the Cookies bar is made in Mexico. But I highly doubt that the Mexican factory making bars for the American market didn’t know that the Pennsylvania plant was gearing up for Brownie bars. Or maybe they knew that I’d buy both bars and sit down and do a side to side.
The only indication of superiority between the two is that I finished the Brownies one first.
Thursday, December 7, 2006
Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)
Thus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.
The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.
The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.
I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”
I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.
Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.
The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.
Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.
The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.
The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.
Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.
High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
On my last San Francisco visit, after the night of the chocolate induced coma, I went to visit a chocolate factory. Unlike the Scharffen Berger factory that I saw last year around this time, I went to a place where they make more than just bars. Charles Chocolates in Emeryville makes heavenly concoctions under the direction of Chuck Seigel composed of fine chocolate, premium nuts (roasted on the premises), fresh fruits, teas and of course lots and lots of sugar & butter.
What sets Chuck apart from some other chocolatiers I’ve met is his lack of pretension (he admits not only to eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers, but he likes them!) but also his conviction to make candies to his standards and no one else’s. By example, we were talking about the new craze for salted caramels. He makes his own (chocolate and plain - review below) but doesn’t bother with the little salt crystals on top because he thinks that the texture gets in the way of the pure caramel and salt experience. He also makes his own marzipan from scratch and infuses it with citrus. I watched as they made a batch of lemon marzipan, and if I ever said here that I didn’t like marzipan, it was because I hadn’t tried Chuck’s. It’s sweet, mellow, nutty and zesty without that bitter medicinal taste of amaretto that so many others have.
Chuck is known for his nuts, which are roasted a little darker than others, he says to bring out more of their intrinsic flavors. I’m actually a big fan of raw nuts, so I was worried that these would be burnt and acrid tasting.
My problem with roasted nuts up until Charles Chocolates has obviously been quality control. His Triple Chocolate Almonds were divine. Instead of being just dark or milk chocolate, it’s both. There’s a rich milk chocolate layer and a dark chocolate layer (or maybe two, who knows, I couldn’t be bothered with dissecting them) and then they’re rolled in cocoa.
The little tin they come in is pretty fun too. They’re sealed in not only with a plastic wrap around the whole cylinder, but there’s also a little plastic cap inside the metal one. Air is the enemy of nuts, so Chuck has done his utmost to keep rancidity at bay. Not that I had them long enough. Of the haul that I left the factory with, this was gone within the first week ... and I only begrudgingly shared.
One of the other items sold in a tall clear tube are one of Charles Chocolates signature items, the Orange Twigs. It’s a milk chocolate ganache infused with orange and then dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They look a bit like little twigs, I guess.
I wasn’t that keen on them. They were sweet and yes, the orange flavor came through, but I didn’t get a lot of chocolate to the whole thing.
If you’re curious about the box shown above, yes, that’s made entirely of chocolate. The bottom is made from fine dark chocolate and the lid of white chocolate. Inside were two layers of salted caramels. The caramels are small and soft, then covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate and decorated with a lightly embossed design.
The soft chew of the caramels was definitely buttery and creamy, but also had a slight grain to it. The salt hit was mild and pleasant and set off the chocolate well. But I didn’t care that much for it. Though the flavor was there, something a little off to the texture. It was like the whole thing wasn’t properly emulsified.
The chocolate caramel was interesting, but an intense buttery mouthfeel and a dark smoky taste to it. It also had less chew to it than the salted caramel and while I enjoyed the flavor, the texture just wasn’t for me.
The chocolate box itself was very good. I was afraid it was going to to suffer from being “functional first” but the chocolate was so good that over Thanksgiving the family busted up the box pretty quickly while there were still caramels inside. (Yes, I was sharing!) The white chocolate top wasn’t quite as notably tasty, I’m not sure why, but it tasted a little musty. White chocolate is tricky stuff, because the cocoa butter will absorb nearby scents and odors. I transported and stored the chocolate box in a cooler that also had some coffee infused bars, and I think there might have been some “contamination” there.
Other items that I tried and can heartily recommend are the Pate de Fruit (both fruit and wine flavors, so true to life), The Tea Collection (flavors that complement and rival the chocolate without overpowering it) and of course the boxed chocolates (many of which I sampled at CocoaBella - post #1 & post #2).
Charles Chocolates aren’t cheap at $54 per pound, but comparable with other high end chocolatiers. Some chocolatiers (like Recchiuti, another Bay Area chocolatier) are very focused on spices or fruits, Charles Chocolates seems to do a great job at raising mundane and common ingredients to gourmet levels, giving the ordinary like almonds luxury treatments.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
I’ve always turned up my nose at Palmer chocolates. I’ve had their mockolate bunnies at Easter before, and in my candy-deprived-state of childhood I would eat them. But I never really liked them. So as an adult with the financial means to make other choices, I have avoided them.
But taking a risk this season was a little easier, as I found that Walgreen’s carries these little single-serving bags (two ounces) of the foil covered Premium Milk Chocolate Balls. It said premium, maybe they were good!
The ingredients looked promising:
Real vanilla, they took this premium thing seriously.
Palmer’s have always looked pretty, so I wasn’t disappointed with the merry red and green foil decorated with holly leaves in a band of gold around the middle. Inside the foil they weren’t terribly attractive though, looking more like a wad of putty.
They smelled sweet and slightly milky. I didn’t detect any real vanilla complexity though. I popped one in my mouth and immediately got a hit of sugar. As the grainy chocolate melted it was very sweet with a vague dairy taste and pleasant vanilla aroma. But very little chocolate. Though it melted, it felt a bit chalky and waxy instead of smooth and buttery. The texture is cool on the tongue and I don’t actually mind a bit of sugary grain to my chocolate, but without much of a chocolate flavor I was underwhelmed.
They’re pretty, I’ll give them that.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I reviewed the Payday covered in real milk chocolate earlier this year. That was a limited edition item and was quickly replaced with this permanent offering called the Chocolatey Avalanche bar. Cuz you know, given a choice, no one wants real chocolate. They want chocolate-like products!
The Payday Chocolatey Avalanche is pretty good. It does have real chocolate in there, it’s just mixed with some other tropical oils (and that wonderful, ubiquitous PGPR that’s all the rage right now) so it no longer qualifies as chocolate . Under the mockolate, the peanuts have a good salty hit to them that balances out the sweet and soft nougat and the slight chew from the caramel. The bar tasted slightly of cinnamon, but perhaps it was stored somewhere close to a case of Atomic Fireballs.
The best thing about this bar was that it was fresh. Every last nut on there was crunchy and tasty.
The limited edition offering at the moment, however, is called Peanut Butter flavor Avalanche which also has no chocolate. It’s a peanut butter core, covered in caramel and rolled in peanuts then dipped in a peanut butter coating.
I’ve eaten two of these so far. The first one I wolfed down the night before my CNBC appearance because I wanted to prep myself properly. The bar was dry and though filling, it stuck in my tummy like a rock. The second one I ate (pictured above) was a bit more pleasant. I’m glad I gave it another try. Still, the crumbliness of the nougat center was just too much when combined with the lack-luster peanut coating. If I were a milk drinker that would have been the perfect accompaniment. But candy shouldn’t need to be consumed with a beverage in order to work.
I’m reverting to the regular old Payday. It never lets me down.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
There I was last spring, talking up the Easter-only Cadbury Mini Eggs. But it turns out they do have a Christmas version of them.
Irritatingly enough they couldn’t be bothered to name them. The package says Cadbury Solid Milk Chocolates with a Crisp Sugar Shell. What the? You call that a name? How about Christmas Cadberries?
I was hoping they’d be just like the Mini Eggs. I opened the package and they smelled similarly inviting, like sugar and cocoa. But the colors, oh, they colors are just off. I don’t know if the photo above conveys it. They look like pencil erasers. Kind of chalky, not quite pastel, not quite vivid. Inconsistent, bumpy and just weird.
On the tongue they’re familiar. Soft and slightly cool, the shell is crisp and crunchy. The milk chocolate inside is a little tangier than the last time I had these. I was terribly disappointed to see that they have PGPR in them as well (which was pointed out by a reader, Jenn, who commented on the Mini Eggs review and prompted me to search for these).
It’s odd how quickly my feelings can change, I have a hard time believing this is a bad bag. It might be the different colors or the PGPR (that could be in the Easter version for all I know) but they’re just not the same. I can’t give these more than a 6 out of 10 (the taste is okay but they sure don’t look tempting).
Monday, November 27, 2006
I went looking for Christmas candy of all sorts last week during the holiday break. I seem to have the best luck at Walgreen’s since they have dependable sales and a clean store (I also went to Target, but everything came in super-jumbo bags). As I expected Russell Stover’s has their assortment of single-serving goodies that are similar to the Easter and Halloween ones. I did, however, find one that I’d not seen before, the Russell Stover Coconut Wreath
They were on sale for 50 cents, so I could hardly pass it up. I’m a sucker for coconut haystacks which is what I expected this to be.
I wasn’t disappointed either. The plop of coconut and milk chocolate was shiny and smelled of coconut. The coconut was crunchy and well-toasted, giving it a much more chewy texture than something like a Mounds bar. The coconut bits were rather small, like little flecks instead of being little curls like you’d find in a bag of coconut shreds in the baking aisle.
It wasn’t too sweet at all, just a nice mellow mix with an interesting texture.
If I was disappointed it was at the shape. I expected something that looked like a donut, instead it’s just a plop. What’s like a wreath about this? Or was mine malformed and had a filled center?
I have to say that I’m pleased that Candy Blog has prompted me to give the Russell Stover holiday lines a chance. Their quality is excellent (no PGPR in the chocolate) and when on sale they’re about the same price as any consumer candy bar and usually feature less common flavor combinations.
Other Russell Stover holiday candy reviews:
Saturday, November 25, 2006
People complain that Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year in the retail world. The decorations are out before Halloween in some stores. It’s kind of funny, I was watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and he was complaining about the same thing ... which leads me to believe that it’s been going on for a very long time. The funny part of that is that in some factories, it’s always Christmas.
Candy Canes are big business, especially for Spangler, which has two factories. Their primary facility is in Bryan, Ohio but they have another factory in Juarez, Mexico as well. The Bryan factory has been operating in three shifts since May just to keep up with demand, churning out 18 tractor trailer loads each day. (Their website says they make 25 million candy canes each year.)
Spangler makes more than just the plain old six inch shrink wrapped cane. They have a huge selection of different shapes and sizes, in more than the traditional red & white peppermint flavor. They make the candy canes for Jelly Belly, Disney and DumDum in all sorts of kooky flavors. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and got a hold of a pretty good cross section of their offerings.
Spangler always packages their canes well, so I rarely get a broken set. The flavor is a mild and pleasant peppermint. Not blastingly strong like an Altoid, more like a starlight mint, but less “foamy” feeling on the tongue.
Right now I’m pretty keen on the Candy Cane Wreaths. They’re a hoop of candy cane (but not joined at the top) around 4” across that have a gift tag already on them, in case you want to use them for decorating packages or gift bags. They’re easy to put on a Christmas tree, and I’m thinking about using them as napkin rings for the dinner table this year.
What’s especially cool about them is that all pieces are curved. I love the curve of a candy cane, how I can break off that piece and place it behind my front teeth and suck on it. Well, this is all curve!
I think if I my favorite size though is the tiny one. I know they aren’t wrapped quite as pretty (they’re in a cello pouch that doesn’t allow for hooking the cane on anything) but they’re easy to eat. I just snap it in half at the middle of the straight part of the cane and put the whole thing in my mouth. No muss, no fuss.
The last kind they make is the super-large pole.
I remember getting one of these when I was a little kid. I went with some neighbors to a parade where Santa rode in a red fire truck and gave these out. As a kid it was a huge amount of candy. A stupid, messy amount of candy. After a while it got very sticky and may have had cat hair on it or lint. So I would keep rinsing it off in the sink, and it would get clean, of course, but smaller and smaller. I seriously doubt I finished it.
As part of my new recipes starting in the New Year, I’ll have some fun tips for what to do with leftover candy canes.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.