Friday, January 10, 2014
A couple of years ago I was treated to a small tasting of a new line of candy bars. They’re from Amy’s Kitchen, which already makes vegetarian convenience foods. I finally started seeing them on store shelves at the end of last year, even at major grocery retailers like Von’s, not just Whole Foods or Mother’s Market. I’ll have reviews of all four of the bars, but I thought I’d start with their unique offering first, the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Chewy Candy Bar.
The package says Soft caramel with pecans covered in chocolate. Well, that not only sounds good, it doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on the shelves.
All the bars in the line are color coded and feature the name large and in the middle of each wrapper.
As you’d expect with an organic candy, they’re expensive. I didn’t see them selling for less than $2.29 a bar, and as high as $2.79.
They’re 3/4 of an ounce each, about 2.25 inches long and one inch wide.
The bite is excellent, it’s soft and chewy, with a stringy pull to the caramel that’s not too sticky. The pecans are small, but provide a lot of texture and maple-flavor. The milk chocolate is robust and stands up well to the rest of the ingredients. The whole thing isn’t too sweet, though it is rather milky.
There’s a lot of information on the wrapper. I love transparency. But it’s poorly organized. So here’s all the info provided, in order for people who read left to right, top to bottom. (I don’t, but I’ll list them that way.)
0 g of trans fat
So when I went looking for the peanut statement it wasn’t with the gluten free statement (which may or may not be contradicted by the wheat in the facility statement), it was on a separate line in different type. It’s a big old mess. Some are marketing statements, some are transparency statements, some are FDA mandated inclusions.
My issues with the back of the package aside, this is a no-compromise bar when it comes to taste and ingredients. It tastes like candy, but I feel like someone is putting a lot of thought and consideration into it behind the scenes. For this bar, the fact that it’s not even something that I can get in GMO form means that I’m more likely to reach for an Andy’s Chewy Bar in the future.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Kona Coffee Truffles are well priced at $3.99 for six ounces. The truffles are individually wrapped and it appears there are about 20 in the zip top package.
In the Trader Joe’s repertoire of individually wrapped truffles on shelves now, there are the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel (not really a truffle in my book) and the Candy Cane Truffles (sold in the winter). The new Kona Coffee Truffles definitely fill an niche.
The truffles are petite, only about 1.25 inches long, so really just one bite. The coating looks like dark chocolate, but the ingredients list all the chocolates: milk, dark and white. The filling is some sort of chocolate, Kona coffee, natural flavors and coconut oil. It’s firm, might even be a bit crumbly if they’re very cold, but in the mouth they melt quite quickly.
It’s smooth, chocolatey, robust and has a hint of bitterness. The melt from the coconut oil is slick and silky. The coffee flavors are dark without too much bitterness, but very little sugary compensation going on. There may be a little hint of salt there, too. The only thing I didn’t like is the use of actual coffee grounds in there. They’re kind of crispy, but still a little distracting from the otherwise fully fat-laden melt.
These are a nice little item to keep nearby as a pick-me-up. Though they’re calorically dense, it’s only about 55 calories each ... so if you control yourself, two is a pretty nice treat.
Contains milk, soy and coconut. May contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Every once in a while candies get a revamp, so I like to revisit them. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Pretzel M&Ms were introduced in 2010 (original review) and have done well enough for Mars that they have continued as part of their regular repertoire, even getting seasonal color varieties for the holidays. I noticed a new version on shelves that advertised “now more pretzel taste.” Since I was able to find the previous version, I thought I’d taste them side-by-side. They have similar “best before” dates.
They look identical. The originals are on the left and the new version are on the right. Same colors, same shape, same size.
It is striking how much better the new ones are. The new ones are crunchier, taste lighter and airier yet have more of that malty, pretzel toasted coating. There was no difference I could see in the ingredients or in the new nutrition panel. They’re still a pretty low calorie candy treat, at only 150 calories per package, they’re pretty satisfying without being too fatty. (Of course the portion is only 1.14 ounces, but there’s a lot going on with the textures.)
The original rating stands at 7 out of 10. They’re not perfect and I still don’t think I’ve bought them since the first introduction (though I eat them when given a sample package, which happens once or twice a year). I still go for the Almond M&Ms when given the chance.
Hershey’s Rally Bar is a strange sort of candy bar in that it appears and disappears on store shelves with little notice. It’s a Hershey’s candy bar, first test marketed in the late 1960s, it was in wide distribution by 1970 across the country. The advertising theme was: Reach Me a Rally Bar, the Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Roll for the Man-Sized Appetite as well as the more gender-neutral The Crowded Candy Bar. This was one of the Hershey Corporation’s earliest attempts at advertising, before this they stood with the founder’s position that a quality product would sell itself. More about the Rally Bar on Collecting Candy.
The candy bar has no real package identity to adhere to in this reissue. This is what it looked like back in 2008 and this is what it looked like in 2004. The new one doesn’t even mention the name Hershey on the front. I picked it up at Walgreen’s as an exclusive item.
Though it was probably a chocolate candy bar when it was introduced, by the 2004 wrapper it was evident that this was a mockolate item. (Here’s my original review.)
This is smaller than the 2.2 ounce bar I tried back in 2008. This is 1.66 ounces (which is actually a good size for me). It smells like peanuts. The fudgy center is like a nougat, it’s soft and chewy with little flavor of its own. The peanuts are Payday-like, they’re crunchy, though not quite as salty. The chocolatey coating actually has a hint of salt, keeping it from being sickly sweet. Overall, it’s an okay bar but I don’t see it as that different from a Baby Ruth.
I stand by my previous rating of 6 out of 10.
There was a time when there were oodles of limited edition candies - not a month went by in the late Aughts that the major candy companies didn’t present a flavor twist on one of their tried and true candies. Snickers alone went through many iterations including: Shrek (green nougat), Indiana Jones (spiced nougat), Charged (caffeinated), 3X (chocolate nougat, chocolate caramel), Fudge (chocolate fudge instead of nougat), Xtreme (no nougat) and Nut n Butter Crunch (peanut buttery nougat).
The Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road changed up a few items in the standard Snickers Bar. First, they replaced the milk chocolate coating with dark chocolate. I approve. Second, they replaced the peanuts with almonds. I find this to be a good substitution. Third, they changed the lightly peanut butter nougat with a smoother marshmallow nougat. Definitively goes with the other two items. The structure is the same - nutty nougat on the bottom, caramel on the top and covered in chocolate.
I gave these an 8 out of 10 rating last time (full review) and I fully endorse them again this time. The nougat is smoother than the 3 Musketeers style and the crunch of the almonds is great. It’s more of a variation on the classic Mars Bar, but I won’t quibble with Mars if they want to bring this back. (In fact, I prefer it to the standard Snickers Almond, which replaced the Mars bar).
Friday, January 3, 2014
Red Velvet cake is made with buttermilk and vinegar plus some cocoa. It’s not a rich chocolate cake, just a lightly chocolate cake with a tangy note to it. The fact that it’s red is really inconsequential to the flavor. The color can be created naturally or using artificial food coloring. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing or browned butter icing.
I’m not much of a cake fan in the first place and Red Velvet is so low on my list that I’d probably prefer not to eat anything at all. Just to be really diligent about this, I went to Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery, and picked up a Red Velvet Cupcake to remind myself what the heck this is supposed to taste like. The Sprinkles website says that they’ve added extra cocoa to theirs and chose a cream cheese frosting.
The cake is moist and bouncy with a good crumb. The cream cheese frosting is what really prevails here. It’s wonderfully smooth and fresh, the only hint of sugary grain is in the crust, but the rest has a pleasant tangy note to the milky sweetness. The cake itself has a sort of corn meal flavor to it, it’s slightly floral, not terribly sweet and overall ... just nice. Not chocolatey, a little on the vanilla side. But nothing I’d get really excited about.
Now that I had something to compare it to, I figured I was prepared to complete my review.
The pieces come in three colors: maroon, red and white. They’re the larger, chunky M&Ms, which are inconsistent sizes. Some are the size of regular M&Ms, but most are super-sized.
The centers are milk chocolate with a light tangy note to them. They’re not more chocolatey, and as you can see from the ingredients above, they didn’t alter their milk chocolate recipe to include buttermilk. They seem like they have more of a vanilla note, like poundcake.
If someone just gave these to me without any clue about the special flavoring, I wouldn’t have picked Red Velvet. At this point I’m curious about how different this will taste from the upcoming Birthday Cake M&Ms. (I’ll set some aside for comparison when those come out in May 2014.) I think it’s a nice idea for Valentine’s Day, a little less run-of-the-mill, but if Russell Stover has had a Red Velvet seasonal piece on store shelves for two seasons, perhaps they’re not really on trend, just slightly behind it.
Red Velvet M&Ms contain milk and soy and may contain traces of peanuts, almond and wheat (in addition to listed artificial colors and unknown artificial flavors). Though Mars has a plan for certified sourcing of their cacao, M&Ms have not yet been added to that list.
Since Mars’ M&Ms team seems to be running out of flavors, let me see if I can make some suggestions: Milk Chocolate Cappuccino, Milk Chocolate Cookies n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate German Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate S’mores, Milk Chocolate Banana, Milk Chocolate Chai Latte, Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Chili Pepper, Dark Chocolate Amaretto, White Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake, White Chocolate Lemon Meringue, White Chocolate Key Lime. All of my previous reviews for M&Ms that actually exist are here.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
To be honest, it sounds terrible, in part because I didn’t know there was something known as Gingerbread Flavor Cover in the confectionery world ... and then I probably wouldn’t have dreamed that the appropriate place to put that would be on top of pretzels. So curiosity trumped revulsion.
The DeMet’s copywriters don’t help the situation either, here’s the marketing passage from the back of the bag:
They’re standard mini pretzels with big salt crystals on them. Then they’re coated in this weird, artificially colored confection that’s supposed to look like chocolate. It’s made with sugar, palm oil and dried milk but natural flavors. The texture is pretty good - it’s creamy and kind of cool on the tongue without getting too grainy or greasy. It’s not chocolate-like, but still pleasant. The flavoring is interesting. If you gave it to me without the gingerbread description, I would have called this orange spice. I don’t know why, but I was getting a light and appealing orange zest note to it the whole time. There’s a gentle spice to it, maybe a bit of ginger but nothing too biting like cinnamon or clove. The salty crunch of the fresh pretzels keeps it all from getting too sweet.
I like them. I ate them. I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.