Friday, September 12, 2014
Wonka Laffy Taffy Caramel Apple (Limited Edition) is part of the new flavor craze for Halloween. The package is loud and strange, as are many Wonka designs. It features the purple Wonka branding around the sides, but the center is a banded swirl of browns on the top and greens on the bottom. It speaks more of wood grain than apples and caramel to me, but at least it did stand out on the shelves.
For those who have never had it, Laffy Taffy (once known as Tangy Taffy) is simply a taffy chew. Instead of the nuggets or rods that come in twisted waxed paper wrapers that you’d get on vacation, Laffy Taffy comes in little bars that form fit the candy. They come in a variety of fruity flavors, but the key aspect of Laffy Taffy is that it’s tangy. Instead of just sweet and flavor, there’s also a tart note to the chew.
The little snack sized bars are larger than a regular taffy piece, they’re really two bites. Each clocks in at about 35 calories and doesn’t take into account the energy you expend chewing. The wrappers feature bad jokes, usually two, depending on how well the wrapper is glued together.
The pieces are soft and easy to remove from the package, though you have to destroy the wrapper completely in order to do so. The color is strange, like hot chocolate and not at all what I would have expected.
It does smell sweet and creamy. The flavor on the tongue, though, is immediately tangy with a rather authentic, if overly tart, apple flavor. The caramel part comes in as the chew goes on and the sour fades as a real caramel note, a sort of toffee/toasted flavor.
What I was hoping for was a stripe of apple taffy and a stripe of caramel flavored taffy, and you’d mix them together as you chewed them. Instead it’s a fully mixed experience, like the kind a baby bird would get if momma birds at caramel apples.
The most successful candy I’ve had to date that emulates a caramel covered apple are the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops - which are an apple flavored lollipop covered in actual caramel.
There’s no statement about gluten, nuts or peanuts, but the wrapper does say that the candy contains soy.
Monday, September 8, 2014
The candy comes in a few formats. I saw them in the stores as a full sized bag of Twizzler Twists and saw some photos online of the King Sized package. I found this Snack Size package at the grocery story and liked that they were individually wrapped pairs of twists. Each twist is about 2.25 inches long, and each package is about a half an ounce and 50 calories.
The color of the candy is quite striking. The pair of short twists are joined together, but easy to pull apart. The green twists are very green but slightly translucent and shiny. The filling is a creamy camel color, not gooey enough to spill out even when the pieces are cut or pulled apart. (So it’s not a real caramel, just a caramel cream filling ... sort of like an Oreo center.)
They smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. The bite is very soft, the chew is also soft. The flavor is odd. After the smell, I expect a tangy bite to it, but it’s not. It’s sweet and tastes like fake apple with that light note of PlayDoh that red licorice often has ... but there’s no tartness to it at all. The caramel filling is grainy, like frosting with a little buttery toffee note to it.
Overall, it’s not a bad candy. It’s not as artificial as I’d expect, without any overtly weird green apple bitterness or too-much-fake-butter flavor. I question the need for a red licorice version of caramel apple flavors, but I think it’s a nice take on the idea.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
They source their chocolate from an organic, family run farm in the Dominican Republic and appear to take equal care after the selection of their beans. Cacao Prieto also uses centuries old technology to roast, and then has innovated some new machinery to winnow the cacao before processing it with reproduction melangeurs. (You can see the process with photos here.)
I’ve seen these bars around for the past few years but was scared off by the price. The time was right, perhaps because of the name of this bar: Cacao Prieto Pecan & Sour Cherry in 72% Dominican Dark Chocolate. The thought of dried sour cherries and pecans had my mouth watering right away.
The bars from Cacao Prieto even have interesting packaging. The whole package is in a cellophane sleeve, and the window on the back of the box shows the bar with its inclusions. Even with the little peek, the packaging protects it well as for the most part they’re displayed with the window facing down. The front of the package also features a little postcard with similarly charming artwork designed by Brooklyn artist Sophie Blackall.
The bar is a slab, rather like a bark. The inclusions are really just scattered on top of the bar, not mixed into the chocolate. Personally, I prefer mine mixed in. I think a full coating protects nuts and fruits from oxidation (so they don’t get stale) very well, and usually means that you get a consistent taste of chocolate and nut/fruit in each bite. But Cacao Prieto says that each bar is hand-created, so I trust that this means that each of those inclusions was placed their by an artiste ... so who am I to argue. I’ll just leave myself in their expert hands.
The bar is nicely thick and quite robust. It’s 5.5” inches by 3.5” inches and weighs in at 4.2 ounces. Of course, the larger size is welcome considering the price of the bar at $13.
The chocolate itself has a crisp snap but yields well to the tooth even though it’s rather thick. The melt is buttery smooth. The flavors are rich, with a lot of toasty brownie notes, woodsy coffee and a note of toffee and cherry (but that could be the cherries themselves). The pecans are expertly chosen and placed. Crisp, mapley and crunchy, they went very well with the chocolate. The cherries were very soft, chewy and tangy.
I loved the bar. Usually I get bored after about 2 ounces of intense chocolate, but this was so well done. The chocolate itself is dreamy, the nuts and cherries are absolute perfection. I noticed that Cacao Prieto actually sells couveture drops of the 72% Dominican ... which I’m pretty tempted by at the moment.
There are a few other interesting features for the bar, first is that it’s Kosher. That’s pretty rare for bean-to-bar chocolate. The bar is made from organic beans and contains no soy lecithin as an emulsifier. There are also no milk products and is considered vegan.
I picked up this bar at Lolli & Pops, a newer and still small chain of candy stores. I got a private tour of the shop before they opened one Sunday morning last month from one of their salesfolk, Jaz. It’s an interesting selection, very wide. They have the standard sugar candy offerings of gummi bears, Skittles and Jelly Belly by the pound. Those are pretty expensive at $15.00 a pound, which is standard mall pricing these days. But what sets Lolli & Pops apart would be their selection of lesser known candies. They have imported mass-produced bars, a good cross-section of Japanese gummis and chews and then they have chocolate bars. Their chocolate room has a lot of candy by the pound (that’s where I got the Chocolate Covered Banana Gummi Bears reviewed last week) but also bars.
They have chocolate from most of the fine bean-to-bar chocolate makers: Amano, Theo, Lillie Belle, Marou, Blanxart, Poco Dolce, Chuao, Scharffen Berger, Taza, Dick Taylor and Dandelion… just to name the ones that I can remember. Though the other candy was priced a bit high, the bars here were at about the same price as if I’d ordered them right from the chocolate makers themselves ... without the shipping. Now, all the chocolate is expensive, most bars are between $5 and $10 a bar, but that’s just the going rate for many of the small batch companies. I don’t know of any other shop in Glendale that carries such a wide variety, so it’s a nice addition to the area.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Hershey’s has a lot of returning holiday favorites for Halloween, but hasn’t neglected to introduce a few new items. Hershey’s Candy Corn Creme with Candy Bits was one of the odd items that really has no name (I think the best adaptation of an existing name to Halloween would be the Cadbury S’creme Egg).
A few years back Hershey’s had a seasonal variety of Kisses called Candy Corn Kisses. It made perfect sense, Kisses are kind of triangular and the layered look was a nice adaptation of the idea. The white confectionery base was simple enough, just a sort of honey/strawberry flavored version.
In the Hershey’s brand scheme, though, the Cookies n Creme bar has already captured the white confection lovers, so they’re more likely to spark to the new Hershey’s Candy Corn Creme with Candy Bits.
The bar is simply a white chocolate style confection (Hershey’s uses a combination of cocoa butter and other oils instead of just cocoa butter which it would need to be a true white chocolate). Scattered within the bar are orange and yellow candy sprinkles. The effect is that it does have a similar coloring to candy corn, though the yellow-white of the creme is dominant instead of the yellow-orange of Candy Corn.
If you’ve always wanted Candy Corn to have fat in it, that would be why you’d want to buy this.
The snack size bars are simple, they’re long and have four little segments with the name Hershey’s inside each.
The bars smell sweet and milky, with a hint of strawberry. It reminds me of a glass of Strawberry Qwik in smell only (certainly not in color). The melt is decent, not creamy smooth, but a little waxy. It’s quite sugary and extremely sweet, though the flavor and a hint of salt moderates that slightly. The sprinkles are annoying. They’re waxy and add no actual flavor or real textural interest. I would have preferred either nonpareils or perhaps if they swirled different colors of confection into it instead.
I think the Kiss version was more successful visually, but I didn’t care for the butter flavoring. This one is definitely less intense, but neither is great to eat. If Hershey’s wants to capitalize on their Cookies n Creme bar, I think making a seasonal version with a cookie in it, a la Golden Oreos might actually be more tasty.
There are all sorts of ingredients in here, including partially hydrogenated oils, PGPR, resinous glaze (on the jimmies), tocopherols and artificial colors. The candy contains milk products and soy and is made on shared equipment with almonds. There is no statement about gluten or peanuts.
Friday, August 29, 2014
In general, covering anything in chocolate probably makes it better. Along those lines, there are plenty of examples of confections that are simply candy covered in chocolate. Chocolate covered gummi bears have been around for quite a few years, but in a rather limited concept: it’s a fruity gummi bear (who knows what flavor) covered in chocolate.
At Lolli & Pops, a new chain of candy stores, I found Chocolate Covered Banana Gummis. So instead of the flavor gamble of most chocolate covered mixes, this was just one kind of gummi bear ... the Albanese Banana Gummi Bear.
They’re easily identifiable as Albanese bears, as the little A on the belly can be seen clearly on many of the bears, even with the chocolate coating. (To confirm this, I also melted the chocolate off of a couple just to be sure. For the record, the Banana Bears are a transparent yellow, not white.) The bears are enrobed, not panned. This means they have a flat side, so though they’re lacking some of the 360 degree qualities of regular gummi bears, they also don’t have that glaze seal on them that can make it waxy.
They smell sweet and milky, kind of like breakfast cereal. The banana flavor is recognizable, not exactly artificial and not as caustic as Circus Peanuts. They taste rather creamy but have just a slight tangy bite, like a not-quite-ripe banana. The chocolate is thin and creamy, with a good melt but not an intense cocoa infusion overall.
By itself, a banana gummi bear is a little bland. And the milk chocolate itself is milky and sweet, but also not extraordinary enough for me to eat it on its own. But together ... yes, I ate my quarter pound portion of these with no trouble at all. They’re passable on their own, but a new confectionery treat together.
Monday, August 25, 2014
There are a few ways to approach it. They could just continue making different shapes and colors like they do for the holidays. Perhaps a tech themed array like the Facebook like button, the Twitter bird and the loading animation you get when trying to stream videos most of the time. Or perhaps transportation, like cars, boats and airplanes. Some pets, like cats and rabbits and birds (wait, those are already shapes they make). Maybe happy faces or embrace emoji and go with an array of different symbols.
Instead, Peeps have gone a different way with their marketing plans. They’ve taken Peeps out of the tray, made them smaller and singular. Well, not completely singular. They’re still called Peeps even though they’re no longer conjoined. They’re sold in a stand up bag that reseals with a zip. There are 24 in the bag, even though it only holds 3.4 ounces. (A similar sized bag of chocolate candy holds about 6-8 ounces.)
They don’t look chocolatey, and they don’t look marshmallow. They’re slumped little fellows, they look a little tired and deflated. I understand that they haven’t been coddled inside a tray with a sunroof like most other Peeps, so I’ll have to consider that these Peeps aren’t supposed to be admired for their good looks ... you must buy them for their other qualities.
The bag smells like a cake mix, a little like cocoa, and fake vanilla, and sugar of course. There’s a lot of sugar. It seems like there’s more sugar coating, more grainy sugar in proportion to the marshmallow than a regular tray Peep. I didn’t care for the heavy dose of sweetness here, especially since the marshmallow part was so lacking cocoa. It was like weak chocolate milk.
They’re far too sweet for me, even when combined with other treats as a sort of condiment for nuts or very dark chocolate.
Peeps are gluten free but may contain milk, even though here’s none in the ingredients. They’re made in the USA.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Back in 1995 Cadbury introduced a hollow, molded chocolate novelty called Yowie that included an animal toy in the center in Australia. They were wildly successful not only in Australia but in Oceania, as well, even outselling the more globally known Kinder Surprise Egg in those territories. Then about 10 years ago some disputes between Cadbury and the product line’s creators, they were discontinued (more about that here).
There are plenty of hollow chocolates out there filled with little candies, but it’s not easy to find them with a toy surprise. In the United States they are banned because in most cases the toy inside qualifies as a choking hazard. Even though the toy is enclosed within a plastic egg that is far too big to be swallowed, it’s the tiny toys (often requiring assembly) that have American regulators on watch for them. (I’ve brought back the toys from Kinder Eggs from Germany, but never the intact candy.)
The Yowie Group has found a way around all of this regulation by simply making the toy inside too big to be a choking hazard and are reintroducing the Yowie line of toys enclosed in chocolate ... starting this time with the United States.
Yowies also have a few other features that Kinder Surprise Eggs do not. The chocolate is considered real chocolate (all natural) and is Rainforest Alliance certified. They’re shaped and molded not like a simple egg, but in the form of different characters. Inside the molded chocolate is a plastic capsule (also kind of a toy itself) that holds the toy. The toy is actual decent quality and are themed as little animal figurines with information inside the capsule about them.
The chocolate is formed in halves, fully designed on both sides (though the back is less interesting). It comes apart rather easily to reveal the capsule inside. They’re rather large, about 2.75 inches tall.
I bought two of them at Lolli & Pops in Glendale (I can’t even find anywhere online to buy them as I write this). They were expensive, $3.75 each. Sadly, one of them was badly bloomed and inedible. They had the same expiration on them, and none of my other chocolate I purchased had any texture/blooming issues, so I’m going to have to say that it happened somewhere between manufacturing and the checkout counter. (So, I staged the photo below to make sure you’d see both of the toys.)
The chocolate itself is pleasant. It’s very thin, so once I put a piece in my mouth, it melted very quickly. It has a fresh “dairy milk” flavor, a rounded cocoa note and a smooth texture. It’s not the best milk chocolate I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly very good for a chocolate novelty item.
You’re not buying it for the chocolate anyway, and as far as candy indulgences go for kids, it’s only one ounce (most chocolate/candy bars are 1.5 to 2.5 ounces) so it’s pretty low in calories overall (153). The little toys are solid and good quality for something considered a novelty ... though certainly not a product I’d be willing to pay more than 50 or 60 cents for, let alone $3.75, even if it does include an ounce of chocolate. But this is for kids.
It’s difficult to read the foil for the ingredients and other information. The press release from the company says that the chocolate is ethically sourced and their website shows the Rainforest Alliance logo. The chocolate is gluten and nut free and Kosher certified. The novelties are made here in the United States at Whetstone Chocolate of St. Augustine, Florida.
Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.