Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I saw these new limited edition Reese’s Bars and I grabbed one over the weekend.
The new Reese’s Bar seems to answer the call for the Reese’s Egg to be made year round. But for some strange reason it’s a pale imitation of the Reese’s Egg. I can’t quite figure out why, it is basically an uncupped peanut butter cup.
The bar is a little messier to eat if you take it out of the package. The oiliness of the peanut butter and the softness of the milk chocolate make it especially soft for handling.
The peanut butter center crumbles and melts nicely in the mouth, but the proportion of the chocolate to the peanut butter just isn’t right for me. I think I want a smidge more chocolate or lots more peanut butter.
The other new limited edition addition is this Fudge Reese’s Bar. I was thinking, “Hey, I’d like some peanut butter fudge right now!” But that’s not what I got. In fact, I was wondering if this was ANY different than the Reese’s Bar shown above. The crumbly and cool peanut butter center was just as I remembered eating just a few minutes earlier.
I looked at the labels:
Reese’s Bar...............................Fudge Reese’s Bar
It continues identically to the very end. The difference appears to be within the ingredients of the Milk Chocolate itself. The coating on the Fudge Reese’s Bar is, well, fudgy, instead of chocolatey. The Fudge Bar has more milk in the chocolate enrobing.
While that sounds like it’d be nice, it makes for a mess. It’s not that warm here today (in the high seventies) and it’s rather hard to keep this thing from losing its bar-shaped coherence.
It doesn’t taste as good either, it tastes more like cardboard and less like chocolate.
Whatever the difference, I reject these bars because there’s nothing wrong with the plain old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. These give you 1.3 ounces, the regular cups give you 1.5 ounces. They cost the same price ... and because they’re leaving out the little paper cups, I get shafted for .2 ounces? Maybe if you’re on a diet and want to trim those extra, um, 31 calories this would be a good deal. I’m not saying these are bad bars. If Reese’s Peanut Butter cups had never been invented and this was my first introduction, I’d be all for them. But they’re far from an improvement on the existing cups, so they get a poor score and can sink into the dark recesses of Limited Edition history.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
A couple of weeks ago there was quite a buzz in the sweets blogosphere ... everyone was talking about the new M&Ms Pirate Pearls. I was looking everywhere for them: Toys r Us, Ralph’s, Von’s, 7-11, Jon’s, RiteAid (x2), Target, Long’s and even Best Buy. I finally found them at a different 7-11.
Pirate Pearls are just a white chocolate version of M&Ms with a special theme for the release of the new sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. M&Ms did this last year with the final movie of the Star Wars saga and made dark chocolate M&Ms (which I saw at the RiteAid that didn’t have the current remix).
Before I go on to talk about these little morsels, let’s talk about what White Chocolate is and isn’t. It used to be that the phrase white chocolate meant nothing at all. It was any solid white or light confection that candy makers wanted. But in 2004 the American candy industry agreed on a series of parameters. At least 20% cocoa butter (by weight), at least 14% milk solids and at least 3.5% milk fat and less than 55% sweeteners (sugar).
Some argue that white chocolate doesn’t deserve the chocolate name, but it seems kind of silly. What makes a hunk of chocolate special is the fact that its base is cocoa butter. You can’t make a chocolate bar without it. Remove the cocoa butter and you can’t call it chocolate. So if you use cocoa butter as a solid for another confection, you should be able to put the word chocolate in there somewhere (but qualified of course).
So, the M&Ms Pirate Pearls are real white chocolate. The first ingredient is sugar but the second one is cocoa butter followed by skim milk, milkfat & soy lecithin.
As you’ve already figured out, after searching a ten stores I found them. And what was frustrating is that I almost missed them. Inside the display box there were several packs of Almond M&Ms ... yes, the packaging is quite similar - beige with blue and brown highlights.
Honestly, the package design is a mess. There’s a strange picture of Johnny Depp with a treasure chest of pearls and the Green M&M standing near him (but not interacting) with a little voice bubble, “Now I’m sweet AND rich!” Up in the corner above all this is the Pirates of the Caribbean logo.
Inside the package, things are far more consistent. The candies are shiny and have soft and appealing colors: white, pale yellow, peach and aqua. A few are cracked. I never experience this with regular M&Ms and I chalk it up to the fussiness of the white chocolate. The M&Ms also feature cute little imprints in pirate themes. A pirate ship sporting a large M on the sail, a skull with a little ‘m’ as the teeth or a spyglass.
Within the standard crunchy sweet shell there was white chocolate. Sweet, sticky ... so sweet it makes your throat hurt white chocolate. Now, recently I went and spoiled myself for any future in loving regular white chocolate by eating a Green & Black White Chocolate bar, so you can imagine my disappointment. They’re creamy, but they taste more of powdered milk than vanilla.
I’m not completely blown away by them, but I’m not repulsed or angry that Mars is giving them a go. I actually think a mix of these with some peanut, regular and dark chocolate ones might be tasty. But all on their own, well, they’re giving me a headache. I’ve eaten the whole package and have a second that I think I’m going to give away, if that’s any indication of my affinity for them.
There are three other products in this movie-tie-in which are basically recoloring of the standard M&M Milk Chocolate, M&M Peanut and M&M Minis (which change colors). The Pirate Pearls package is slightly lighter than the M&Ms Milk Chocolate, which are 1.69 ounces ... these are 1.5 ounces.
So, who else has tried them, and do you want them to keep white chocolate M&Ms on the menu?
Here are some other reviews: CandyAddict, Chocolate Obsession and Nicole at Slashfood reviews the Australian white chocolate M&Ms.
Friday, May 12, 2006
This isn’t so much a review as a rewind. I’ve had Pixy Stix plenty of times before. I’ve been eating them for so long I don’t even remember when I first tried them.
My earliest memory of the Giant Pixy Stix was at Little Buffalo State Park in Pennsylvania. We went up there for the day for swimming and general summer amusement with another family who lived in the area. They had an awesome array of swimming pools. At some point we were given quarters and allowed to go to the snack bar where I bought the most amazing thing I’d ever seen - a Pixy Stix that might have been as tall as me (I was probably about six at the time and a tiny thing at that). Okay, maybe it wasn’t that big, but it seemed huge to me. It was grape.
It seems that Giant Pixy Stix are sold at swimming pool snack bars, because later when we moved back to Mechanicsburg, we had summer passes at the public pool and they had them there too. There’s something about chlorine that makes me crave fake grape and pure sugar.
Here’s a little history of the Pixy Stix:
Pixy Stix used to be made by Sunline which started in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Pixy Stix started out as an accident really, with kids driving the development of the product. Originally it was a drink mix in the late 30s, sold as Frutola, but J. Fish Smith found that kids were eating the sweet & sour powder right from the package. He shifted the name to Fruzola and added a spoon. Later it was repackaged with a dipping candy stick as Lik-m-Aid and also sold in little straws ... Pixy Stix. It wasn’t until parents complained about the grainy, sticky powder that Sunline came up with a compressed tablet form, the SweeTart in 1963.
Sunline was sold to Roundtree Mackintosh of the UK, which was then bought by Nestle. Nestle maintained the Sunline brand for a while and only recently has rolled the SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and Lik-m-Aid into the Wonka brand, which already had a strong line of sugar candy, such as Tart ‘n Tiny, Nerds and Runts.
So, you’re wondering about the Giant Pixy Stix? I did my due-diligence research and can tell you that a Giant Pixy Stix has slightly more than three tablespoons of candy powder in it which weighs in at one ounce. The Giant Pixy Stix are approximately 21 inches tall. (They might have been taller when I was a kid.)
The most frustrating thing about them is that they’re hard to open. The traditional Pixy Stix is a paper straw and can be torn open, or unfolded. The Giant Pixy Stix are thick, flexible plastic and cannot be torn. I recall at the pool that they would snip it open for me, but there were times that I ended up just gnawing off the top.
Giant Pixy Stix currently come in four flavors: grape, Maui punch, cherry, and orange. The regular Pixy Stix also come in green apple (which used to be lime but was changed in 2001). The primary ingredient in Pixy Stix, not surprisingly, is dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying glucose, which is a mono-saccharide. Dextrose is generally made from vegetable starches (corn syrup). Sucrose is what’s makes up cane and beet sugar - it’s a di-saccharide (it’s made up of two molecules - one of fructose and one of glucose). It has a slightly different mouth feel. Some folks can actually tell the difference between fructose, dextrose and sucrose. Often you can feel the “cool” feeling of dextrose on the tongue.
So how do they taste? Well, if you’ve never had a Pixy Stix (and I met someone on Tuesday night who hadn’t) it’s rather like eating unprepared Jell-O or drink mix. It’s sweet and cool on the tongue, with a tart bite and some flaky, grainy bits that seem to linger a little longer. There’s not much flavor, but enough to be able to tell the difference, especially if you inhale the dust (not like snorting it, you know what I mean).
I don’t eat Pixy Stix very often anymore; because of that dextrose thing they do go straight into the bloodstream and can cause pretty severe blood sugar crashes on an empty stomach to those of us who are sensitive to such things. But last night I responsibly had a nice, high protein dinner, and then ate my three tablespoons of Pixy dust out of the measuring cup. Yes, I just stuck my tongue in there. Yes, eventually my tongue had acid burns, but I kept eating. Yes, eventually I got a rather sour stomach, but I kept eating. I love my Pixy Stix. It’s a good thing I don’t buy them that often.
In the future, I think I’ll stick to the regular paper straw ones. A little easier on the portion control. But I loved it when Pixy Stix were bigger than life.
(Pixy Stix Box photo from CandyWarehouse.com)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:46 am
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
It was a dark and stormy bar ... the 100 Grand (or $100,000 Bar as it was originally known) was always a favorite of mine. The smooth and chewy caramel with the crisped rice and sweet milk chocolate was such a good combo. I’m also a big fan of two small size bars packaged together. It makes it easy to share, easy to keep some for later; or you can eat them both at the same time. It’s flexible.
The 100 Grand Dark is just semi sweet chocolate instead of milk. It actually looks a little different than the regular bar, besides the color of the coat, the crunchies seem smaller. Take a look at this shot of a regular 100 Grand. Joanna at SugarSavvy had the first review I saw.
The less sweet bite of the dark chocolate really helps to highlight the salty/chewy caramel. The crispies are a nice texturizing element here.
I didn’t really want to like this bar and didn’t think that I did, but I ate it ... I mean gobbled it up. I took the picture and then instantly finished off that piece with the bite out of it. But usually I save the second half for when I am writing up the post ... not so here. I had lunch yesterday and then I ate it. I tried to linger over it like I do with the upscale chocolates, but instead I just enjoyed it on the purest level: without words. I have nothing but good feelings about my consumption of this bar and I’m a little disappointed it’s not a new addition to the line. And I want another one. It’s the kick that the 100 Grand has needed all along.
Now watch them let it fade into obscurity.
A last note, I’m a little irritated that they use High Fructose Corn Sweetener in there instead of sugar, but it’s pretty far down on the list of ingredients, so it might not be much more than a dash of it.
See other review on the Limited Edition 100 Grand with Peanuts.
Friday, May 5, 2006
Now that I’ve eaten a dozen Reese’s products, I thought I needed a change. So I had a Boyer Smoothie.
Boyer is based in Altoona, Pennsylvania and may be somewhat of a regional brand. I don’t see them out in Los Angeles, but they’re not hard to find once you get to the east coast or midwest.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had it before; it’s even odder now that I’ve had this cup. All this time I was expecting something called the Smoothie to be like a Buckeye (which is an ultrasmooth peanut butter filling in milk chocolate). They’re described as, “Creamy peanut butter covered with butterscotch.” Not only that, they’re chunky! The “butterscotch” coating is kind of like an overly sweet white chocolate and it’s studded with chopped peanuts, so it pretty much tastes like peanut butter fudge. The peanut butter filling is much like the Reese’s filling, it has a nice salty hit to it and is slightly crumbly.
But the whole thing had this sickly sweet smell to it. I guess if you’re allergic to chocolate, this might be the peanut butter cup for you. It’s just not for me. I want something else to play off the peanut butter, chocolate is a good companion as is coconut like in the Chick-o-Stick or the Peanut Butter Ginger Chews. As Boyer products go, I think I’ll stick with the Mallo Cup.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
I do love banana chips, but I gave up eating them quite a while back when I realized how much fat they had in them. I’m not saying fat is a bad thing, but somehow I figured a piece of chocolate was probably better for me than a banana chip.
Enter the Milk Chocolate Covered Banana Chip.
They’re not the most appealing looking treat, in fact, if you put these in a bowl and offered them to me, I’d probably decline. They look kind of like deformed chocolate ears. (I’m not sure, for the record, that I’d want to eat candy that looks like perfectly formed chocolate ears either.)
I don’t know what possessed me to buy these, but I am glad I did. It took a few bites to get used to them.
The chips themselves aren’t quite crisp, they have a little oily bite to them, but it goes oh, so well with the mild milk chocolate coating. The banana chip is thin and has that extra banana punch to it, the milk chocolate is super sweet but balanced by the cracker qualities of the chip. The chips also have this strange “cool” feeling on the tongue that just makes me want to keep eating them.
What’s even better was the price. At $1.69 for 10 ounces, it’s not bad at all for a chocolatey treat. Don’t kid yourself that chocolate covered dried fruit is in any way good for you - one serving of this has half your day’s ration of saturated fat ... and um, I’m not sure how many servings is in half the tub, but I think I’m on a restricted diet for the rest of the week to make up for this. After all, candy is a sometimes food.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.