Tuesday, September 27, 2005
On my quest to find a good consumer coffee-infused chocolate bar, I found this at Target recently. It’s not quite mass-marketed but at least it wasn’t prohibitively expensive.
The package heralds the candy as a “Truffle Bar” but it really doesn’t rise to that level at all. As far as I know, a chocolate truffle is a mixture of chocolate and butter and/or heavy cream. It’s usually dipped in chocolate because it’s gooey but may be rolled in cocoa to keep it from sticking to things. The fascinating thing about a chocolate truffle is that it’s more fat (often) than chocolate, but this fat helps to highlight the intense and subtle flavors of chocolate in ways that a higher cocoa solids bar is not able to. This bar had no such center. The center was slightly softer than the plain chocolate outer shell, but more like a Frango than a melty chocolate cream.
The coffee flavor in the firm center comes from “Turkish grind decaffeinated [coffee]”, which probably explains the graininess of the center. The bits aren’t big enough to be considered crunchies but large enough to interfere with a smooth texture. Of course being decaffeinated means that there won’t be much of a problem with eating this bar before bedtime.
Overall the bar is a little sweet but has a nice chocolately flavor and a really good punch of coffee once it melts on the tongue. The chocolate and coffee blend well, with good woodsy notes and a slight acidic bite.
It’s not my dream coffee bar though, so I’ll keep looking. (I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but it’s been a fun quest.)
Rating - 6 out of 10
Monday, September 26, 2005
I’ve seen these tins at Trader Joe’s for about a year. While I was fond of the idea of a tin of chocolate instead of a foil wrapped bar, I just didn’t get a good feeling from the package. I was worried that the chocolate would taste tinny or perhaps be chalky.
Happily, as you can see from photo the wedges are shiny dark chocolate with a good snap to them. They’re simply bittersweet Belgian chocolate that’s been repackaged here in the states in Chinese made tins.
The chocolate is 70% cocoa solids but it’s still rather sweet for bittersweet. The sugar is most apparent upon first resting a bit on the tongue. Then it melts pretty easily with only a slightly uneven grain to it. It’s got good chocolate notes, mostly in the lower, earthy range without the higher acidic and fruit notes. The smoky quality is there as are the woodsy tones. The cocoa butter is really nice and light and allows the flavor to spread easily, there is only a slightly dry finish to it.
The grain is a little distracting and the sugar a little too apparent. However, I did just what the package shows, I traveled with this chocolate, putting it in my bag and taking it on a humongous two-day road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back and it not only weathered it well, it was a welcome treat.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I’m keen on trying the flavored chocolate wedges, too)
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Both Hershey and Nestle recently introduced their standard chocolate bars now stuffed with a caramel center. If they could stuff two different candies into one, I can stuff two bars into one review.
Hershey seems to have changed their chocolate recipe. Maybe it’s like the New Coke. Many of their products, including their limited edition line are sporting something they call “Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate” but here it’s called simply “Creamy Milk Chocolate.” It’s definitely different than the chocolate I’m accustomed to in my Kisses.
This is a four segment bar with a little filling of soft, flowing caramel. The chocolate is very sweet and doesn’t really smell like much, but the caramel has a nice toasty scent to it. It’s rather runny, so instead of biting each segment in half, I’d recommend stuffing the whole thing in your mouth. It’s got a little salty tang to it, but mostly it’s a very sweet bar.
(After writing all of this I realized I should probably pick up some Rolos and find out how different this bar is from them.)
Since the Crunch bar is the centerpiece of the American Nestle brand, it only makes sense that they’d put caramel inside of it eventually. This bar has three beefy segments. The bottom layer of chocolate is very thick, about half the height of this bar and contains a good amount of crisped-rice crunchies. The rest of the chocolate coating does not have crisps in it.
This caramel center is less runny than the Hershey’s but is immediately saltier. I checked the label and it has twice the sodium content of the Hershey’s. The salt is actually a nice counterpoint to the exceptionally sweet Nestle chocolate. The crisps really aren’t as dense as you’d find in a regular Crunch bar, which is kind of disappointing. This bar had a bit more of a cardboard flavor to the chocolate and it was so sweet that it made my throat hurt. Though I love Nestle’s European chocolate, I really don’t care much for the American stuff because of the lack of chocolatey flavor to it.
If I could, I’d put the caramel from the Nestle version in the Hershey version and call it a great bar. As it is now, both are good bars but nothing mind-blowing for me. The Five Star bar holds my heart right now for caramel bars.
Ratings - Hershey with Caramel - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Yes, in the continuing quest to not only bring you the best and worst candies in the world, I’m going to educate you on the subtleties between our seemingly identical candy choices.
First, a little background (some of this I only know vaguely so feel free to correct me). M&Ms were originally developed as a candy for soldiers to give them quick energy in combat situations and be easy to carry. Some people wonder what M&M stands for, and many think it’s for the Mars brothers, but in reality it’s Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie’s father was one of Hershey’s trusted partners at the company and provided the chocolate inside M&Ms until the 70s.
As with most UK treats under the Nestle name, they were originally made by Rowntree which was later swallowed up by the growing Nestle corporation. Developed several years before the M&M, Smarties are still one of the most popular candies in the UK. The UK version are purported to have orange chocolate flavored orange Smarties (and back when there was a brown Smartie it was mocha flavored) but I am using Canadian Smarties for this head to head.
First, Smarties are slightly bigger than M&Ms. An M&M is approximately 1 cm in diameter while the Smartie is 1.5 cms.
However, the Smartie is slightly flatter than the M&M. I didn’t weigh them.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the candy shell. The Smartie shell is much thicker and has a very pronounced crunch to it. It also seems to have a flavor. When I looked at the ingredients for the Smarties, I saw that there is wheat flour (and cornstarch & sugar) in the shell whereas the M&M shell is made only of sugar, cornstarch and color. The Smartie has a slightly graham cracker taste to it. It’s pleasant and perhaps a little cinnamonny (I know there’s no cinnamon in it). The M&M provides more chocolate punch. I guess geometry would tell me that even if the mass of the Smartie is the same as an M&M it still has more shell by virtue of being less spherical.
As appearances go, they’re both exceptionally pretty candies. Given a choice between the two, I prefer less shell and more chocolate. In reality I usually buy Almond M&Ms more often than the plain ones, but if someone puts a bowl in front of me, I can hardly resist. But I can see that there would be times that I’d crave the cookie-like taste of the Smarties.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
If you’ve ever wished that your red vines were more packed with flavor, well, you can stop wishing. Twerpz are here and they come in more than red flavor, they come in orange, too!
They were introduced last year and only come in this paired flavor combo. They’re a slightly larger nib (short piece of a vine) with a larger center that’s filled with a tart and chewy center, simlilar to a Starbust (I know, a Mars product).
Upon opening the package they do smell distinctly of strawberry with a hint of Elmer’s glue (what is it with that glue smell?). The candies themselves are kinda cute and a really good size. I had fun photographing them. The outside is the typical bland and sweet vine and the inside is a really intense burst of sour and soft chew. I prefer the orange ones to the strawberry, but if you’ve been reading here for very long you’ll know that I eschew red things. (click the photo for a larger version)
I think they’re a nice addition to Twizzler line - more flavorful, really easy to eat at a movie or to share with others. I’d be fun to see other flavors, but I think that strawberry and orange are a natural start.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Twizzler’s Twerpz were discontinued, but the Jolly Ranchers Awesome Twosome (also made by parent company Hershey’s) may be an adequate substitute for some folks.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I’ve always been a huge fan of Goetze’s Caramel Creams (often referred to as Bulls-eyes), not really because of the caramel, but because of the incredible cream.
The cream in the center of a caramel cream really isn’t creamy, it’s intensely sweet but very light and has this intense cooling effect in the mouth. I don’t see Goetze’s very often in Los Angeles but I do pick them up a couple times a year when I do.
Cow Tales (I don’t know why they’re Tales and not Tails ... though the website does tell part of the history) are very similar to the famous Caramel Creams. The main difference is the shape. Imagine a very long (about 7 1/2”) rope of caramel that’s actually a tube filled with the famous caramel cream. It doesn’t look like much when you take it out the wrapper. It’s soft and bendy and has a light dusting of corn starch to keep it from sticking.
The most interesting thing about Goetze’s caramel is that it’s nothing like any other caramel I’ve ever had. In fact, I hesitate to call it true caramel as the first ingredient is not sugar, butter or cream or even corn syrup, but WHEAT FLOUR. So really, the caramel is more like a cookie dough, which is a pretty cool flavor. It has a good chew without any stickiness. It’s sweet, but also pretty mellow. There are not carmelized sugar notes to it, just a consistent floury vanilla taste.
My favorite way to eat Caramel Creams is to turn them inside out onto my tongue so that I can eat the cream first and then I follow it with the caramel husk. The Cow Tales make that a bit harder, so I just ate it as the good candy-maker intended, biting off pieces and chewing. The combination of the mellow caramel and the sweet center is really nice.
Given a choice, I’m going to stick with the familiar caramel creams. They’re easier to share and it’s easier to choose how to eat each caramel. On the west coast I can usually find Goetze’s products at Rite Aid (which is based in Camp Hill, PA, only about one hour from the Goetze’s factory). On a slightly related note, Rite Aid usually carries Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, too.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (for the record, Caramel Creams are an 8 out of 10)
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I don’t know if this bar is sold at this little candy shop at the Pittsburgh airport because it’s called Sky Bar or because they carry a lot of other hard to find nostalgia candies (they didn’t have Valomilks, but they did have Cow Tales). I’d seen these when I was growing up, but was never really interested in them, as I’d always assumed that they were the candy bar version of Whitman’s Samplers.
It turns out that it’s not far off from that. The bar is undeniably pretty. Four joined pieces of candy, with pretty domed tops, fluting up the sides and the Necco logo on top. Unlike Necco wafers, where you never know what you’ll get in the roll, the Sky Bar is consistent. The far left piece (if you set your bar like the package shows you) is caramel. Not a chewy caramel, it’s a sweet, sticky concoction with a nice salty hint and good carmelized sugar notes. The next one over is by far the least interesting to me, the vanilla cream. Slightly light, very sweet and rather bland, it simply brings out the rather cardboard notes in the milk chocolate. After that is peanut which I think is their masterpiece. This is not a peanut butter, like you’d think, it looks like caramel and is smooth but has the wonderful roasted taste of peanuts and a good hit of salt to balance out all the other sweets. The last section is fudge. Sweet and with that slightly cooling grain to it, the fudge is nice and not too sweet but suffers from the same blandness of the whole bar - too much sugar and not enough chocolate in the chocolate.
I can see how this bar was so successful for so long. Steve Almond talks about the history of the bar in Candy Freak (chapter 2), that it was one of the most popular bars on the east coast and had a prominent billboard in Times Square which was re-lit at the end of WWII. As a bit of nostalgia, it’s fun. But it’s not my nostalgia, I have not particular affinity for it, so it’s merely an experience for me. It’s probably a great bar to share with friends (as long as there actually is something for everyone) and probably speaks to people who really like variety in their candy.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, September 12, 2005
Name: Five Star Bar - Caramel
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview and on the show Steve Almond gave the host a Five Star Bar. Steve had also featured the bar in his book Candy Freak, so I was already aware of its virtues. Still, I’d not seen one in person. I did get a gift over the holidays though, of a little package of their milk and dark chocolate squares, which were very nice and smooth.
The bar has it all. It’s a hefty little log, about as wide as it is high and twice as long as that. At two ounces, it’s bigger than your normal candy bar, but smaller than a king-size. It’s not quite gourmet, but too good for the regular candy shelf.
Upon biting into it there’s an intense explosion of caramel. The first ingredient on the package is CREAM, so you know how fatty and smooth this bar has got to be. The caramel has a good carmelize sugar taste to it, without going too far into toffee land. It’s very sticky and smooth. Inside there are nuts and a few dark chocolate bits (not enough for me, but you know, who am I to quibble with something so positively reviewed).
One thing’s for sure, I’m going to try all their Five Star Bars. For the record, my husband also picked up the Java Truffle Bar and a Peppermint Bark (I don’t have the package in front of me and their website is down). The Java bar is really nice, with a good smokey coffee flavor to it and it’s not too sweet (and made with dark chocolate). The mint one is really smooth but not quite minty enough for me.
Interesting note - I give high marks to all candies with the word five in their name. Coincidence?
Rating - 9 out of 10 (they’re really expensive)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.