Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Name: Fast Break
I’ve mentioned brand extension before. Mars has done this with M&Ms beautifully in the past ten years with the introduction of Almond, Crispy, Mint, Peanut Butter and now Megas. Reese’s is no exception (part of the Hershey family). The base of the Reese’s brand is Peanut Butter. You can’t make a Reese’s product without it, as far as I know.
I bought four of these new candy bars, this is the first of the reviews of them. The Fast Break. Yes, it’s like Breakfast, only backwards and two words. I’)m eating it for lunch. Hey! It does have a lot of protein in it for a candy bar! (5 grams.)
I’m a nut fan, as many of you know (except for walnuts, to which I’m sadly allergic) so Reese’s have always been a huge favorite of mine. The Fast Break bar package says that it has milk chocolate, peanut butter (duh) and soft nougats.
The soft nougats part confused me. Nougats? More than one? Apparently. The center of the bar is a crumbly log of salted peanut butter. Good roasted flavor and not too creamy so that it sets off the other textures well. The bottom of the bar is soft, bland, light colored nougat that might have a hint of cinnamon flavor in it (though it didn’t say so on the ingredients). Plain old vanilla nougat. The peanut butter log is on top of that, and then there’s a thin layer (you can’t see it in the photo) of a caramelly nougat that drapes over the two before the chocolate enrobement (I just like saying that word). It gives the whole thing a nice texture that things mix up well when you chew it. It has a little chocolately/caramelized taste to it.
It’s a good bar, really. I like the roasted flavors and how it isn’t too cloyingly sweet like a Snickers or Mars bar can be. It’s a good snack because of the salty taste, like a Payday bar is.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Name: Choxie Chocolates
I was planning on making jokes about what Choxie meant, but then I saw a commercial for it and they said it was “Chocolate with Moxie.” Not to be confused with Mockolate. And it’s not Chalk that’s Toxic or as my neighbor pronounces it ... Choke-see. The other weird thing besides the name is that it’s not on the Target website. You search for Choxie and you get some CDs.
At the urging of several readers I went there this past weekend and bought a variety of the new chocolates. A little tub of Warm Spiced Caramels (9.45 oz for $5), a Hot Chocolate Bar (2.5 oz for $1.80) and a small box of the Artisan Truffle Tiles (3.5 oz for $5). There’s lots more variety there with round truffles and other chocolate covered goodies
Warm Spiced Caramels: I’m in love with these little buggers. They’re smooth caramel with a little spicy flavor. No heat to them, just a little bit like a spiced rum or mulled cider. Very fall-like. The chocolate is smooth and not the slightest bit waxy and not to sticky sweet or milky. I think I’d like them with semi-sweet as well.
Artisan Truffle Tiles: The tiles are all the rage, as far as I can tell. They have that retro styling to them, with the painted tops. The flavors in the 3.5 ounce box are: chili limon, jasmine tea, orange mango, key lime, lemon rose, apple pie, cafe latte and cinnamon praline.
I didn't try the truffles, but I can see the truffles having the advantage of a better ratio of chocolate to filling. Here the filling is about 1/4 of the total of the candy. The chocolate is smooth, but because all the flavors are in the same box, there's a weird sort of jumbled infusion in the chocolate shell ... chocolate is an excellent flavor absorber, and in this case it's absorbed all of them. Perhaps the wrapped truffles don't have this issue. The centers are pretty divine though. The flavors aren't quite as robust as I think I've had at some places like Boule, but for a pre-packaged candy it’s rather nice to have the option of something like Lemon Rose or Chili Limon. Some of the other flavors like apple pie and latte were a little ordinary, but the creaminess of the centers is really the star.
If I were decorating a cake or something, these could be a great, edible addition.
Hot Chocolate Bar: The last, and probably most cost effective pure chocolate candy I found were the bars (the caramels are cheaper by the ounce but not all chocolate). At 2.5 ounces, it’s not a bad deal as candy bars go. If you’ve ever had a Frango, the “truffle” center of this is very similar. Rather firm, but a good instant melt. The flavor is rich with a lot of cinnamon with a little heat from both ginger and chipotle. I wish there were more fire to it and less spice graininess.
Overall, as a hostess gift the packaging is super cute and the quality is good. As fine candy goes, I think I’d still stick with See’s Candies, as they’re quite a bit cheaper though lack those trendy flavors (but their key lime truffle is pretty awesome).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Note: I have a sneaking suspicion that Trader Joe’s ‘Slate of Bliss’ is made by the same people who make Choxie, so I’m digging for more info on that ... maybe I’ll have something later this week.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Name: Overload Peanut Butter Cups
In my mind, there is no more perfect melding of chocolate and peanut butter than the Reese’s Miniature (yes, the minis are better than the full-sized cups). I do not pursue anything above that, but in the interest of fairness, I’m giving these Overload thingies a chance to prove themselves.
Overload is three peanut butter cups, each a slight variation on the tried and true original. One with balls of Butterfinger crisps tossed on top, another with some sort of fake m&ms (called ‘candies’) and the last with Buncha Crunch, which are just chocolate covered crisped rice like a Nestle Crunch bar.
First, when I pulled the tray out of the package, I could see that there was some sort of industrial accident. There were little ‘candies’ in ALL of the peanut butter cups and the ‘candies’ one had some buncha crunches in it. So much for segregation.
The chocolate is smooth and sweet, if perhaps a little more of it than a standard Reese’s cup. The peanut butter center is a little smoother than a Reese’s which is neither a good or bad thing, it just is. I kind of like a little grain to my nut butters, but that’s me. It was salty and very roasty tasting. The Butterfinger mixed in with that is a really good combo, a nice variation of smoothness, sweet, a bit chewy later with the Butterfinger and a lingering salty tone. The Buncha Crunch also has a nice texture to it, but in my mind it’s not quite enough crisp to make it through the cup. The ‘candies’ one is just kinda silly - is it the color that’s suppose to impress me or the texture of the candy shells? It’s by far the most chocolately, but the peanut butter part gets kind of lost without a texture to set it off.
These don’t even come close to most other peanut butter and chocolate products for me. The variety was, however, a welcome change when you’re buying a King Size item.
Rating: 5 out of 10 for ‘candies’ and Buncha Crunch and 6 out of 10 for the Butterfinger
Monday, October 24, 2005
Name: Abba Zaba
Again, I grew up on the eastern seaboard, so some of the candies I see on the west coast are unfamiliar to me. Abba Zabas are one of them. I think we had something similar, but I can’t recall what it was. The website for Annabelle’s is quaint, circa 1996, and entirely sincere like the candy. It’s a little disturbing that the ingredients label on the candy spells it Palm Kernal instead of kernel, but I have to admit that many spelling mistakes have made to the screen in this site.
Abba Zabas are a white taffy with a stripe of peanut butter in the center. If you open the package and take it out, it looks like a white subway tile and kind of sounds like one if you whack it on the side of the table. They’re dangerous things, really, the taffy is firm and sticky, so if you have any sort of dental work (fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures) you’re liable to lose it or loosen it. If you have firmly planted teeth, you’re probably their target consumer.
I found the taste to be very nice, the sweet taffy is a really good backdrop to the peanut butter, but I have to admit that I prefer either a hard candy shell on my peanut butter or a molasses chew like Mary Janes or Peanut Butter Kisses. The dental destroying qualities are just too overwhelming for me, so I’ll leave this one to the kids.
Rating - 4 out of 10.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Name: York Peppermint Pattie (Special Edition - Miniatures)
York Peppermint Patties hardly need a review from me. They’re a dense/fluffy minted center with a thin dark chocolate coat.
The reason I bring these up is that instead of the regular market-testing Limited Edition, these pink-centered patties are to raise awareness and money for the Young Survival Coalition.
They’ve been out since this summer, but I’ve yet to see them in any store on the West Coast (okay, I’ve only looked on the coast of California from San Francisco to Los Angeles), these were sent to me by a friend of my sister-in-law in NY. If you find them, grab them. They’re no different than a regular YORK, except for the color. Eat them in the dark if the pink squicks you.
Rating - 10 out of 10 (cancer is bad, breasts are good ... actually I love Peppermint Patties, the miniatures especially)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These have always scared me. I think because they’re called Chick-o-Sticks and look like they could be chicken legs. Not something I’d consider to be a sweet treat. And let’s face it, the orange color is pretty freaky. The Atkinson site doesn’t really say why they’re called that except that that’s what they’ve always been called.
What they really are is a peanut butter toffee crisp covered in coconut. Pretty simple. A lot like the inside of a Butterfinger bar, but a bit more solid (as you can see in the close up if you click on the photo).
The taste is good, sweet with a nice hit of salt and a really good roasted peanut butter flavor. Even though the coconut looks pretty minimal, the taste is pretty significant. Unlike some of the other crisped peanut butter candies, this one contains no trans fats, in fact the only fat in it comes from the peanut butter itself. They’re much easier to carry around than some chocolate candies because it doesn’t melt, so I can see this being a good treat for hiking or shipping long distances (the Atkinson website mentions shipping them to Iraq).
I know, I need to get a hold of a Clark bar and Zagnut to round out my tour of peanut crisp.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.