Thursday, October 8, 2015
The Tasty Baking Company has been based in Philadelphia since 1914. Back in 1930 they introduced a new snack cake called the Tandy Take which was eventually renamed in 1974 to Kandy Kakes (to avoid confusion with the Tandy Company). These were the snack cakes of my childhood. I’m not sure if I had a Twinkie until I was in college,but Kandy Kakes, I’d had plenty of those.
Their most popular item is the Peanut Butter Kandy Kake (they bake a half a million a day as of 2014), which was also my favorite of their products. The Peanut Butter Kandy Kake is a disk of sponge cake (or maybe angel food cake) with a stripe of peanut butter covered in mockolate. Their second most popular item, the Butterscotch Krimpet is also a curious creation made of a sponge cake (sort of like a Twinkie) but with crinkle cut edges and a butterscotch frosting. (Pennsylvania is kind of known for butterscotch confections, see also the Boyer Smoothie cups.)
When I was growing up there was still regionalism for baked goods, Tastykake was really a local company, though recently they expanded south and also took over production of the Hostess brands including Twinkies. This year Tastykake announced West Coast distribution for their more popular items. (Though it says on their website they’re available at some of my local stores, I still haven’t found them on shelves.)
For those of you just discovering this nostalgic brand, you should catch up with this add for Tastykake, I’d say it’s from around 1975, starring Betty White:
First off, are Kandy Kakes even candy and do they belong on the blog? Well, I’ve debated about this for a while. For the past few years when I travel to Pennsylvania, I’ve usually come back with a box (or two) of the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. They fit most of my rules for candy in that they’re sweet, portable, shelf stable and require no preparation to eat. However, they’re also baked (but then again so are Twix). I also have the same problem with chocolate covered pretzels. What pushed me over the edge with this review is the fact that Tastykake offered these new Fall flavors: Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes and Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes.
First off, Kandy Kakes is a strange name. Substituting letters in a standard word is usually an indication of lesser quality, just like chocolatey denotes something not-quite-chocolate. Not only that, Tastykake and their product line has a lot of Ks in it. A lot. It’s like they’re going for something wacky (this all predates the Kardashian ownership of the letter).
So, the name might be a bit juvenile, but maybe it’s also supposed to be delightful. Betty White said some nice things about the ingredients in her commercial in Tastykakes, but for reference here’s what’s in the Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes (yes, I transcribed all this, so forgive any spelling errors as many of these ingredients don’t come up in spellcheck):
The Salted Caramel are described as cakes with chocolate flavored coating and salted caramel filling (naturally and artificially flavored).
The large box (a half a pound) holds 6 of these packages of twin cakes. They’re actually a little weird out of the box because there’s no indication of which flavor it is. (So if I had the Peanut Butter version out of the box, I wouldn’t know ... that little BN initial on the package, what does that mean?)
There’s 90 calories per cake, so the pair is only 180 ... for 1.3 ounces, so not really a low calorie product, just its size helps with portion control.
They smell sweet, but not like anything in particular. The chocolatey coating is noticeably thin and fake. The bite is nice, the cake is soft and a little dry but that’s balanced pretty well by the caramel stripe on top. The caramel is quite salty, though there are only 95 mg per pair. The mockolate is terrible, far more noticeably terrible on the salted caramel version than the peanut butter. There’s no cocoa flavor and certainly no creamy cocoa butter experience. There’s not even any milk in that fake milk chocolate.
It’s pretty dreadful. Maybe I’m not a good judge of pastries, or petit fours or whatever category these should be in, but they’re not actually good candy.
The Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes sound good in theory. But in reality the white coating is suspiciously white. It’s not milky white, though at least this white konfectionery koating has nonfat milk in it. The coating has more titanium dioxide in it than soy lecithin.
However, they do smell good. They smell like a nice spice cake ... a little nutmeg, a little cinnamon, maybe a touch of clove and sweet milk. The bite is soft and a little more substantial than the Salted Caramel as this cake is actually carrot cake ... there’s actually carrot in there and even some raisin paste, orange puree and coconut. The white coating is filmy and there’s another creamy layer in there that’s kind of like cream cheese or perhaps unscented foot balm.
It’s a great idea but the coating completely ruins it for me. (Now, a salted caramel stripe in there and maybe an actual white chocolate coating ... but then we’re into actual petit four world, not cheap snack cakes.
The cakes are made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts and contain milk, soy and coconut.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Il Morso, which means the bite in Italian, is a new, solid form of coffee. Though the concept of coffee being treated like chocolate is hardly new, it’s very rarely implemented. Il Morso not only attempts to make a solid coffee/chocolate hybrid, by using cocoa butter with coffee beans, but they’re doing it with all natural ingredients and far less sugar than others who have come before them.
There are three different little bites in their current line: Americano, Coffee & Cream and Mocha. They also make a Matcha version with green tea instead of coffee. They use organic ingredients, no emulsifiers and pure cane sugar.
I tried Il Morso at the Fancy Food Show, before they were selling at retail. Now they’re available in limited stores and on the web. The company sent me this sampler box so that I could try all the flavors.
An Americano is espresso with a little water in it, to create the same consistency as a standard drip coffee. The Americano Coffee Bar is actually quite simple when it comes to ingredients, just three of them: Espresso Beans, Cocoa Butter and Cane Sugar.
Each little bite of the Americano Coffee Bar, the most intense coffee bar they make, has about 18 mg of caffeine. They’re also only 20 calories, partly because they’re so small (4 grams) but don’t be fooled because there’s no milk in there, there’s still plenty of fat from the cocoa butter (not a bad thing).
The bar smells like coffee, like coffee grounds, not quite like brewed coffee or espresso. It’s woodsy and deep with toffee and charcoal notes. The bite is easy, this is very similar in texture to a chocolate bar. The melt is easy and fast, but not too slick. There’s a slight chalky texture, like that sludge at the bottom of a cup of coffee, but this is by far the smoothest coffee item I’ve had. The sweetness is there from the sugar, but it’s very clean and just enough to moderate the more intense bitterness from the coffee.
Though it’s a small square, it’s quite intense and I don’t feel like I would ever want a full bar of this.
The Coffee & Cream Bar comes in at 16 mg of caffeine and 25 calories. This one contains milk powder in addition to the coffee, cocoa butter and sugar. You can see from the picture though, this is not milk chocolate, it is still very intensely coffee, but the milk is there to bring a more mild note to the bar without adding more sugar.
It’s funny that it does not smell as strongly of coffee as the Americano. It tastes, though, really much the same. The bitterness, the sort of acidic note of strong coffee, that’s all there, but it’s just slightly milder. It’s also smoother and has a lighter finish to it.
The Mocha Bar is the same as Coffee & Cream with the addition of some 70% chocolate. Sometimes I feel like chocolate bars with coffee in them are just that, chocolate bars first. Here, this is fully a coffee bar with chocolate in there. This one comes in with only 15 calories and 14 mg of caffeine.
This bar is absolutely the smoothest. It’s also the least sweet, if that’s possible. The coffee notes are most forward and the least bitter of the three bars, but no less rounded with the toffee and roasted notes. The chocolate is a smooth background with a hint of brownies and bananas.
The final bar is not coffee but all, it’s their only Tea Bar, the Matcha Tea Bar. This one has four ingredients: matcha, cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It’s also 20 calories but has only 7 mg of caffeine.
It’s quite green and smells like grass clippings, pistachios, jasmine and tea. The texture is smooth, but the whole effect of the tea is a little perfumey and soapy. There’s bit of bitterness that comes out after the cocoa butter and milk has dissipated. The floral notes linger long after the bar is gone, so it’s much fresher feeling than the coffee bars.
Overall, I think these are fantastic. I love the intensity of the bites, though they feel less like candy and more like a snack because there’s so little sugar in them. I’m also glad they’re so satisfying, I never feel the need to eat more than two at a time, because I wouldn’t want to over consume caffeine, especially late in the day. It’s a great option for travelers as well, if you need a little boost. They don’t seem to have the same problems with cocoa butter bloom as chocolate does, or at least the few that I traveled with melted and reformed pretty well.
The packaging is lovely and has a lot of information packed on to the little squares, which I appreciate. I don’t see myself buying these often by the box, but they would make great favors or gifts for those who truly love coffee. If I could find a candy shop that has them by the piece, I’d be willing to pay $1.75 each for them ... based on how big they taste, not how big they are.
There’s no statement about nuts or other allergens on the packaging. These are very pricey, though premium coffee drinks are also pricey and these are just more portable.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The candy comes in a tin that’s pretty much the same as the one Altoids come in. The selling point, I’m guessing, of this mint is the fact that it’s made with xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that is not only “sugarless” but also has been shown in clinical tests that it does not promote tooth decay. Though it does have some calories (about 1/3 fewer than other mints made with sugar), it’s not quickly digested by the body so has a very low glycemic index. The xylitol comes from birch trees, not corn like some xylitol products, so the makers say that it’s GMO free. It’s also vegan, gluten free, soy free and vegan.
Though I picked one of the most pedestrian flavors they offer, the candies also come in cherry, licorice, margarita, pumpkin spice and root beer float flavors.
The chips are, well, chip-like. Think of it like peanut brittle, it’s a thin sheet of a sort of hard candy-like mint that’s been shattered into variously sized bits. Some are as big as a dime but most are more like a small tablet about 1/3 of an inch across.
They’re hard to photograph, which is why I left them in the tin for this shoot. They’re not colored, not opaque, not quite translucent. Not quite milky, so they don’t qualify as white.
If you’ve had xylitol candies before you know that like most sugar alcohols it’s a little cool on the tongue. This works very well with a flavor like spearmint or peppermint, which already has the cooling effect of the mint oils. The dissolve is interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that it’s crunchy, like a toffee only without the buttery notes.
Overall, the unique texture and excellent flavor profile makes these quite appealing. Personally, I find eating too much xylitol a problem (it can make some people gassy), so it’s not something I would eat as a candy, only reserve it as a breath freshener.
I’m curious about the other flavors, especially Root Beer Float and Cinnamon.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The concept is truly simple, a small, spherical pretzel is coated in milk chocolate. (The image on the front shows pretzel twists, but they’re not pieces of pretzels, they’re actual full spheres.)They’re very similar to the Toffee Bites, not that innovative, this product is definitely an American take on a standard confection.
The cheeky text on the front of the package reads: HELLO, I’m a handful [of] Pretzel Bites. You be the sweet, I’ll be the salty. (Nice to Sweet You)
Like the Toffee Bites and the Minty Bites, the chocolate here is excellent. Though it’s very sweet, it’s immediately creamy and smooth with a strong hint of cocoa. The salty pretzel center is crispy and light with enough crunch to offset the sweetness of the coating.
Still ... I wish they were dark chocolate. Or maybe a mix of the two would be fun.
Like Minty Bites and Toffee Bites, these are made in the USA. They’re on the expensive side for chocolate covered pretzels, and I don’t see myself buying them often, but of the three versions, this was my favorite and the one that I finished first.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Now that I’ve purchased the full set, I’ve noticed the packaging for the line. It’s an odd design style. The HELLO line is a very friendly, with that hipster coffee-house style mix of hand printing and script. The embossed Lindt logo, on the other hand, is old-world elegance. The rest of the package is just an image of the product. In this case it’s a bowl of toffee bites and some pieces of toffee (I know, the photo makes it look like they might be pats of butter). Each of the packages for the HELLO Bites has a different metallic color on the top band. For the toffee, it’s bronze, for the mint it was green and for the pretzel line, it’s a light blue (which is consistent with the M&Ms Pretzel which is also blue).
The pieces a little on the small size, mostly the size of a garden pea. The milk chocolate is very light in appearance, like the Minty Bites, there’s no indication of the cacao content. The coating is very creamy, with no detectable waxy glaze to interrupt the immediately melty chocolate.
The chocolate to toffee ratio is very balanced, so there’s enough of both to give full flavor development and texture. The toffee is crispy and has a good crunch. There’s a hint of butter and a touch of salt with some good toasty flavors to balance it. The milk chocolate has a lot of dairy notes, but not so much of the dried milk flavors that I don’t care for in a lot of Swiss-style milk chocolates.
These are easy to munch but also such high quality that it’s fun to savor them as well ... the chocolate has a delightful melt and the consistency of the toffee is great if you’re a cruncher or a dissolver. The key here is that this is a simple item that can be done poorly with cheap ingredients and no attention to detail ... instead Lindt has delivered an excellent product and actually surpassed my expectations.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
I picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte, though I admit I was a little confused about how different this was from the Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate M&Ms from 2013.
It’s always a little odd to pick up “seasonal” items when I live in Los Angeles. The package here shows the brown M&M all bundled up with steamy drink. It was 96 degrees in the shade when I got back to my car with the purchase (it’s also hot in a lot of other places around the country, it was still August when these hit the shelves).
The pieces are large, as all of the specialty flavors lately have turned out to be. They come in orange, cream and dark brown. (The earlier 2013 Pumpkin Spice were orange, green and dark brown.)
The ingredients list no specifics about the flavors, there are no lists of spices and definitely no actual pumpkin or coffee. What I expected to be different about this variety is more of the latte beverage experience. So, I’m hoping for creamy milk notes, maybe some espresso and of course the spice mix known as pumpkin.
The flavor combination here is immediately cinnamon with a touch of coffee and chocolate. The spices are warm, but not very evenly balanced, it’s almost all cinnamon and not much in the way of nutmeg or ginger. The coffee notes keep it from being as sweet as some others, though it’s a little inconsistent. The chocolate itself is grainy and not terribly creamy. In general the chocolate quality on M&Ms is disappointing as a chocolate item, but fine as a candy.
I’m a little confused how this whole coffee craze can come about and there are no coffee M&Ms, but some how a beverage that includes coffee can actually get the M&M treatment.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Lindt has expanded their friendly HELLO line of chocolates with a handful of panned products. The Lindt Hello Minty Bites come in a stand up bag that holds 5.3 ounces. They’re pretty much the most expensive chocolates you can buy at Target, but also a very reliably good brand of chocolate.
I picked up mine on sale for $4 a bag, though they’re usually about $4.50. The package does a good job of vaguely describing the product: Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cubes (natural flavor). But the description on the front, the propaganda on the back, and the images do noting to show what the product actually is. I assumed they were a fondant center, like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Instead, they are unique, which is a good thing to set them apart from other offerings, but also took a bit to get used to.
The dark chocolate coating is glossy and creamy and pretty thick. The chocolate is not very dark, there’s no percentage on the package and does have added milk fat and milk. The pieces are not completely spherical; they’re more oblate like M&Ms. The centers are like a jelly. They’re made from sugar, apple, pineapple fibers, sodium alginate, green tea extract, dicalcium phosphate, citric acid and natural mint. Can you imagine that? Yeah, it’s a little weird.
The center reminds me a little bit of the Brookside fruit pieces, but they’re a little grainy. The flavor is only lightly minty and rather authentically like mint leaves. But there’s a tangy component ... so the effect is like a mojito, a little citrusy and a little minty.
I don’t know what to think of them. I didn’t love the, but I had no trouble eating the package eventually. The chocolate is ridiculously smooth and creamy, but after eating Brach’s & M&Ms chocolates for so long, sometimes I forget that chocolate in these types of candies can actually be really good. Of the three varieties of Hello Bites, these are the only ones with a dark chocolate coating (the others are Toffee Bites and Pretzel Bites), which is what I usually prefer. If you’re the type of person who likes the Brookside Fruits or Trader Joe’s Powerberries, these might be something you’d like.
Lindt’s new Hello Bites line is made in the USA. Most other Lindt products (at least the ones that I’ve reviewed) are made in Germany. Though the front of the package says natural flavor, there are artificial flavors (vanillin) and other ingredients like sodium alginate and dicalcium phosphate - they’re not necessarily “artificial” but not necessarily ordinary.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
The roll is substantial, both in the packaging and the contents. I was initially shocked at the price of $2.49 for a roll, but it is 2.25 ounces. The wrapper is a paper/foil style that is easy to open and actually re-closes pretty well, too.
The pieces are 1 inch in diameter. I pulled out some Giant Smarties I had sitting around as a comparison in the photo. There’s a vanilla note to the pieces once they’re unwrapped, but only from afar.
The candies come in five colors/flavors. In a little diversion from the standard Smarties, there are blue ones in there. The disks remind me a lot of game pieces or poker chips. One side is lightly colored and flavored, the other side is white. I can’t tell if it’s a distinct flavor of its own.
Purple is Grape and largely floral in flavor. It’s lightly tangy, but no actual grape flavor is in there. The floral notes are on the violet side of things.
Orange was disappointingly bland.
Yellow is Peach and by far the most tart of the array but not terribly peachy.
Blue is Blueberry, another floral flavor, but there is a light tart and jammy note in there. It actually ended up being my favorite flavor of the group.
Pink is Strawberry which is rather mild, which I think most people would be disappointed by.
Though I found them pleasant enough, there was a weird “B vitamin” note that I had trouble getting around. Though they’re certainly better tasting that Flintstone’s Chewables, at least then I’d be getting my RDAs.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.