Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Premium Organic : Smooth Organic Dark Chocolate with Cherry (70% cocoa). Yes, it’s dark. The bar is gorgeously glossy and smells of tart fruit, smoke and coffee. For such a dark bar, it is sweet. It has a nice melt, but a slight chalky feel on the tongue. The black cherry comes across with all the floral fragrance, but without much of the tartness that characterizes the dried fruits.
Though I’ve professed that I don’t like cherry flavor, I have no problem with actual cherries, so this was an agreeable bar.
This bar is organic and fair trade.
Dark Chocolate with Raspberries (70%). This bar has an equally smoky taste to it, dark and floral with some woodsy notes. It’s not as sweet as the cherry bar, but has the same sort of grain on the tongue towards the end of the melt. There are real bits of raspberries in there (including the seed) which give a little tangy zap every once in a while. The infusion of raspberry flavor wasn’t really there, but the scent lingered over the whole bar. This went really well with coffee or a savory snack like salted almonds or pretzels.
This bar is ethically traded.
I went to Target last night and noticed a nice selection of the Premium Organic line right at the check out stand candy rack. So this brand is getting much easier to find. Have you spotted it anyplace other than the Whole-Foods-style markets?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
There once was a fantastic chocolate bar that surpassed KitKat in crispiness, that exuded such a creamy sweet experience that Hershey promptly mucked around with the formula and then discontinued the bar.
I’m talking about the Bar None.
It was a cocoa wafer, chocolate filling, peanuts and a milk chocolate coating and was introduced nationally in 1987. It was a wide bar, about the size of the current Whatchamacallit bar. The series of light chocolate wafers were filled with chocolate cream, covered with a light coating of crushed peanuts and then a coating of darker than normal milk chocolate.
I was irritated at the time that Hershey had just mucked up the Whatchamacallit bar by adding lame caramel to it. I’m faithful to bars that are faithful to me.
With Bar None I was immediately smitten. I would buy them at the convenience store just over the bridge from campus where I was going to college. I would buy them in vending machines, I would buy them in the six pack at the grocery store. I would buy them whenever I could. If there was a reason that they didn’t succeed, it couldn’t be attributed to my lack of evangelical devotion.
Later in 1993 Hershey’s reformulated the bar and added caramel but also divided them into two bars (kind of like the Reese’s Sticks). While they were tasty, they weren’t the same and I lost interest in them entirely.
I wasn’t alone and at some point they stopped making them in the United States. The retooled version is still made in Mexico.
I’ve heard that they’re okay, and I’m actually curious to try the Mexican version, because maybe I was wrong about the new Bar None. But I’m not curious enough to take that drive south of the border in search of it.
Instead, sometime in the late eighties I also discovered the Le Chocolatier cookies made by Pim’s.
These are flavorless wafers with a chocolate cream and covered in real chocolate. What’s even better is they’re sold in boxes so while they weren’t wide and ample bars, there was an ample supply of them. If you were a fan of Bar None and have pined for it all these years, try the Le Chocolatier. Or take a trip to Mexico and let me know how those are.
UPDATE 2/6/2009: Look what I found! This is exactly what I remember, it’s a magazine ad from 1988 or 1989. Also, check in here with this photos set I have of a fan newsletter I used to get called Chocolatetown USA! from 1990 that profiles that launch of the Bar None.
UPDATE 2/18/2009: I think I found a pretty good replacement for the Bar None. It’s called the Q.Bel Crispy Wafer Bars. They come in Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate & Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter and have no artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils. I love the dark chocolate version. They’re currently being sold at Whole Foods. Though they don’t have the crunchy peanuts in them, they do have some crisped rice in the chocolate enrobing!
UPDATE 6/12/2013: The Bar None has returned, made by Iconic Candy Company, it’s a pretty good replica of the original. You can read the full review here.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.
They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.
Cinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.
Cranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.
Dreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.
Egg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.
Pecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.
Pumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.
Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.
ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.
If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.
The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5
ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Oh, the Limited Editions ... I’ve been searching for the fabled Elvis Peanut Butter Cups (with banana creme). When I didn’t see those I picked up this new LTD offering called Reese’s Big Cup with Mixed Nuts.
My luck was that it contained lots of nuts and none of them were walnuts. The tall peanut butter cup contains peanuts, pecans, almonds and cashews.
It was just like the Big Cup with Nuts, which isn’t bad on its own. This one was actually improved by the variation in the nuts. I don’t think I ever got a cashew in there, but I did have a few almond and pecan bits. The pecans went especially well as they add their own sort of maple/woodsy essence to the toasted peanut butter taste.
The whole thing was a little greasy, the little fluted paper cup was oily as I removed it for consuming. I suppose I should be glad that the fats were in the cup and not my tummy. It could simply have been that the hot light I use for taking the photo made it a little melty (but I don’t really think that).
The big cup products are also a little smaller than buying the double cup pack and even three grams smaller than the regular Big Cup. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. They’re throwing in more expensive ingredients (premium nuts) ... even Snickers Almond has resorted to padding their product with peanuts instead of just adjusting the portion.
(Yes, I’m aware that three out of five of the reviews were of Hershey products this week, I don’t know what came over me.)
Thursday, November 16, 2006
If you’re of a certain age you may remember Tang, Astronaut Ice Cream and Space Food Sticks. All of these became famous because of the space craze of the sixties and seventies. As normal mortals we couldn’t go to the moon, but we could eat like an astronaut!
I’m thinking the major attraction to these is nostalgia. I’m not sure anyone who didn’t live through the landings on the moon and Skylab is going to be terribly interested in an early version of an energy bar.
I never had these when they first came out. (I did however, plop down my shekles at the Air & Space Museum in junior high for Astronauts Ice Cream ... you know it said ice cream in the name, not food. It was dang expensive at $1.00 a package and really cut into my gummi bear budget.)
Anyway, one to what I have in hand, which are the present day versions of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Space Food Sticks because the persistent Eric Lefcowitz of RetroFuture.com has brought them back into production after they’d become a quaint memory to many of us.
The format has changed slightly, from a pair of long wand to 10 small pieces. The wand shape was because the snack needed to be inserted into a little hole in the astronaut’s helmet. I actually kind of like the new format, they reminded me of protein-packed Starbursts!
The Chocolate ones smell kind of like Nestle Quik. Not creamy but kind of flat like cardboard or a Tootsie Roll. They’re soft and have an easy bite that might border on crumbly. Kind of like cookie dough and less chewy than a Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is just that, more like flavor, though it does boast real chocolate and cocoa in there. I can easily taste the soy in there, which is a pleasant enough. They’re a bit on the salty side (200mg), which I find a little refreshing and if you’re an athlete probably a good idea. As a candy they’re not really that satisfying. As a snack item, I kind of enjoyed eating some with some mid-day pretzels and almonds.
The Peanut Butter ones were more promising. The peanut smell was pleasant with a touch of honey (though none listed in the ingredients). This had the same crumbly chew which reminded me of eating a slightly raw peanut butter cookie or just the flavor of the old Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. The little pieces were great, because I could eat two or three and not have to worry about resealing the package to keep the rest. Just a little twist of the packet and they were safe for later.
As a candy I probably wouldn’t buy them again. As a snack item I appreciate the real ingredients in them. So often the label on a Power Bar or other meal replacement bar can be daunting - this is pretty simple with real ingredients. Of course with only “real” ingredients there’s no fortification with additional vitamins and minerals like you might find in an energy bar.
Cruftbox reviewed the original-style stick-version of them back in ‘04. The SpaceFoodSticks website also has some great old commercials from the Pillsbury product (and one from a competing PET product called Space Energy Sticks).
Old Time Candy sells them in singles (1.99 each) but if you decide you like them and want more, go straight to the source for the best price. It’s possible this will become the hot “stocking stuffer” item this Christmas, as I’m sure there are a lot of 40-50 somethings pining for the good old days.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
You may not have caught the news recently that Ben Meyerson Candy Company was purchased by Jelly Belly. They aren’t known for much in the chocolate realm except for Christopher’s Big Cherry and in the sugar world, the Sunkist Fruit Gems.
I came across the Fruit Gems at Rite Aid and thought I should give them a go again. I used to buy them from Trader Joe’s in little tubs, but then I discovered the chocolate covered nuts and never went back. I figure the Gems are a bit like the West Coast version of Chuckles. But really they’re not. Chuckles are all essence and no juicy tang. When you’re branding something with the Sunkist name, I’m expecting a tangy juice.
What’s really interesting about these is how they differ from other jellies covered with sugar. Instead of having a rough outer coating, these are practically smooth, with the sugar mushed against the jelly center. They don’t sparkle quite as much, but then again there’s no little bits of sugar left in the package or crumbling off when you bite into them like you might get with Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices.
Orange - it is tangy, nice rounded orange flavor. Not terribly vivid, more like pleasant.
Cherry - very cherry, kind of medicinal tasting. There was a long-lasting aftertaste with severe bitter notes. (Oddly enough, the package makes no mention of Cherry on the package, just a list of the other flavors.)
Lemon - mmm, zesty and tart and smooth. I love lemon.
Grapefruit - not that strong and with a slight bitter note that makes it believable.
Lime - yeah, lime.
Raspberry - floral with only the slightest sour bite. Again, it had a little bitter aftertaste, like the color red.
Jelly Belly will start making these soon, I’m not sure if they’re going to leave them alone or not. Jelly Belly has its own line of fabulous Fruit Pectin Jellies that I was blown away by last year. The Jelly Belly jellies are vegan (they use beet sugar instead of cane sugar), so it’s possible that Sunkist Fruit Gems will also become vegan as well (it’s hard to know whether they are or not right now).
My biggest complaint with these is that like Lifesavers, there is no variation in what you get in the pack. Starbursts and SweeTarts are variable, so you might get a lemon-heavy pack. And with the little see-through package, I might be more likely to pick up a citrus-heavy package. As it is, there are only three flavors I really liked here (orange, lemon and grapefruit), so I’ll probably continue to pass on these. Unless I see them in the tub at Trader Joe’s and it’s all citrus!
UPDATE 9/2/2008: An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves with the Jelly Belly logo on them, but instead of holding six fruit jellies, they now only have four.
Worst part of this news? The grapefruit one was missing. (What is it about grapefruit disappearing lately? Is it because of the news that grapefruit juice interacts with some prescription drugs?) This is not to say that the Sunkist Fruit Gems don’t come in grapefruit any longer, just not in this particular package.
Seeing how Sunkist is known as a citrus company, the fact that they made an assortment the neglects one of the citrus fruits and includes a berry is beyond me. The package is also similar to the old one and actually includes images of grapefruit (though the text clearly says which flavors are in the package).
The change in manufacturing location and ownership, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has made no difference at all for the actual candy. It’s still a nice, soft and flavorful fruit jelly without too much of a granulated sugar coating.
The only real difference here is that you get only 2/3 as much as you used to. I was hoping when Jelly Belly took over that they’d sell the jellies in individual flavors like they do with their famous jelly beans. No such luck yet. (For now whenever I see the Jelly Belly booth at a trade show I pick a half a dozen grapefruit jellies out of their sample bin and move along.)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I think I’ve reached my limit on KitKat varieties. The disorder is called KitKat Variation Fatigue. I think part of it may be because so many Limited Editions are not as good as the original. If I had my druthers, they’d bring back the Dark Chocolate KitKat which predates the invention of Candy Blog.
A few weeks ago I reviewed the nicely wrapped but less than stellar KitKat Cappuccino from the South Pacific. I may as well repeat that description here as it certainly applies to the American KitKat Mocha:
It’s a maple chocolate KitKat. Not coffee. Not espresso. Not cappuccino. Not mocha. In fact, I think the only coffee drink you could call this would be Maple Latte ... hold the espresso.
For no reason, I’m marking this one a notch down from the Malaysian variety. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t come in a cool box. Maybe it’s because this one is certified Kosher and not Halal. Maybe it’s because I find PGPR on the ingredients label. Or maybe it’s because my car now smells like pancakes.
So that’s it. I’m not buying anymore Limited Edition KitKats. (Really! Okay, maybe. But it’d have to be really good.)
Here’s the sum of everything I’ve reviewed to date:
KitKat Coffee (USA) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Tsubu Ichigo (Strawberry) (Japan) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
American KitKat & UK KitKat - 8 out of 10 - PERM
Orange KitKat (Canada) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Matcha (Japan) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Mint (USA) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Cappuccino (Malaysia) - 6 out of 10 - LTD
White Chocolate KitKat (USA) - 6 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Bites - 5 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Orange & Creme (USA) - 5 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Milkshake (USA) - 2 out of 10 - LDT
For the record, the only ones that I have bought again were the Coffee KitKat and the regular old American variety. I’ve also tried the Extra Crispy and Extra Creamy but was so underwhelmed I didn’t feel like reviewing them.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Hershey’s has been furiously releasing limited edition Kisses. The interesting thing to note is that sometimes these Kisses become permanent additions to the line, such as the Peanut Butter Kisses earlier this year. Other Kisses have been returning as seasonal or limited edition items, such as the reappearance of the Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses.
The Mint Kisses seem like a natural brand extension. They were first introduced in 2002 and are released before the holidays each year. Simply put, it’s mint infused milk chocolate. The wrappers are a racing style green and silver check pattern, which I’ve always found rather cute.
As a candy they’re very strongly minted. They’re very sweet but with that familiar Hershey’s tang to the chocolate. Slightly grainy but overall smooth, they’re a fun change from the normal Kisses. My only caution is that when I put them in a bowl or bag with other Kisses the mint will infect the others.
An interesting thing to note about all the new Kisses. They’re molded. The traditional Kiss that’s been made for the past 100 years are extruded by machine to create a consistent kiss shape. They used to have a rather dependable little bend at the top, like chocolate chips to, but less so these days. It’s easy to tell them apart by looking at the bottom of it, where the traditional Kiss has a little cinch at the bottom instead being completely flat. Any other Kiss you might come across, however, is molded. Basically, they’re made upside down, with the chocolate deposited into a Kiss shaped tray.
The Limited Edition Candy Cane Kisses are new this year, though really just a new format for another Limited Edition product from last year. Last Christmas saw the introduction of a set of Miniatures called Mint Mix Miniatures which included minted dark chocolate, minted milk chocolate and minted white chocolate bars ... with the white one sporting little red and green nonpareils in it.
With the name being Candy Cane I was hoping that the candy bits in there were be actual hard candy like candy canes. But they’re just crunchy nonpareils like the miniatures last year.
I can’t help loving these. I don’t know why I do, but they’re positively addictive. I had a lot of Kisses for some photos I was shooting and I found myself digging through the assortment and eating all of these first. They’re a little grainy but have a good minty feel in the sinuses and the crunchy bits are kind of fun to roll around on your tongue as it melts.
Another production note. After seeing the Orange Creme ones last year that were white with orange stripes on the outside, I figured out how they make these. They create stripes of molten colored white chocolate on the inside of the mold, then deposit the rest of the white chocolate. The strips of colored chocolate spread out and make the stripes.
The only disturbing thing I have to report about this pair of candies is that both ingredients list PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate - an emulsifier used to replace some of the cocoa butter in lower quality chocolates). Sigh.
If you need more Kisses, check out SugarHog.net, which is running a series of reviews on all the regular and limited edition Kisses. (Including the coconut ones that I haven’t been able to find ... well, I haven’t looked very hard.)
UPDATE 10/28/2007: The Candy Cane Kisses are back for 2007 ... however, they are no longer made with cocoa butter, instead it’s a mix of tropical oils. I do not plan on buying them again.
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