Tuesday, May 2, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
I posted recently about Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies and lamented the loss of the Sugar Mama, which was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy. Well, a couple of people have since told me that Sugar Mamas do actually exist. But only in name.
I think the story goes something like this: Sugar Daddy and the first Sugar Mama got married and had a mess of Sugar Babies. But Sugar Daddy wasn’t happy. Sugar Mama wasn’t happy, maybe resentful that the Sugar Babies got all the attention, maybe she started to drink, or maybe it had something to do with the big company, Nabisco, selling the Sugar Family to Tootsie, but Sugar Mama disappeared. I don’t want to say that someone put a hit out on her, but it seems that someone quietly got rid of her and was hoping that we’d forget that Sugar Daddy was a single parent. Maybe it was a Mexican divorce and Sugar Mama is out there somewhere, living under a different name, but she’s hiding really well.
So later on the new Sugar Mama comes along and Sugar Daddy gets a quickie marriage, I reckon they didn’t even go to Vegas, probably just to the courthouse in one of the states where you don’t have to wait. Sugar Daddy told Sugar Babies to call his new wife Sugar Mama, and I guess the Sugar Babies have complied ... but she’s not their Mama. She’s nothing like their Mama.
I wouldn’t really mind if Sugar Mama is Sugar Daddy’s trophy wife, but she’d have to be a trophy of some kind. She’s not really that good looking, just little flat squares of quasi caramel. Instead of being smooth and slow like Sugar Daddy, Sugar Mama is a little grainy, very soft and lacking in a strong caramelized sugar taste and that stunning orange/brown color that Sugar Daddy and the Sugar Babies share. However, Sugar Mama is not a hazard to dental work in the same way that Sugar Daddy can be.
I certainly like them better than the Kraft caramels, and they’re nice and soft and chewy, but they’re lacking in a certain elasticity and smoothness. They don’t have that grainy chew towards the end that Sugar Babies have, but they also don’t that ultra dense chew that lasts to the very end with Sugar Daddy. Now, if you’re thinking you can’t make a smaller version of the Sugar Daddy, you have to remember that they used to sell something called Sugar Daddy Nuggets, which were pretty much the same format as Sugar Mamas, but you know, really good.
Why did they do this? What’s with these big candy companies discontinuing a candy and then coopting the old name for use in a different candy (remember Marathon? Mars now uses the name for an energy type bar)? Can’t they at least wait a generation or two to prevent muddling? Aren’t there enough words out there that they can just take new names? I guess it’d look funny calling these Sugar Step-Mamas.
Monday, May 1, 2006
Sometimes I think that I’m neglecting some of the best candy in the world just because it’s been around forever. Sure, CandyBlog is here to help me and you expand our candy horizons, but that doesn’t mean that we need to cast aside our tried-and-true friends. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
So I decided to revisit these old friends, and of course include whatever new and funky versions are out there.
First, there’s the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It got its first commercial media blast with a campaign in the 70s that featured two people - one eating peanut butter from a jar and the other eating a chocolate bar. They would collide and the chocolate bar would end up in the peanut butter and the chocolate eater would complain, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” The peanut butter eater would complain, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Then they’d both taste it and it’d be pure love. Cue the jingle ... Two great tastes that taste great together, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
There ain’t a thing wrong with this candy. It’s simple and pure, the combination of two strong flavors. A milk chocolate cup filled with a slightly crumbly, dense peanut butter with a little salty kick. The proportions are spot-on. Enough milk chocolate to lubricate the sticky, thick peanut butter. Enough salt to balance the sweet chocolate. As candy goes, it’s not even as bad for you as you might think. Yes, half the calories come from fat, but for your 220 calories you’re getting 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Show me a nutrition bar that does that and tastes this good. Okay, maybe there are some. Show me one that costs $.75!
The Reese’s Double Chocolate was an oddity. First, let me say that Hershey’s has chocolated a couple of candy bars lately with good results. I liked the York Peppermint Truffle Pattie and the Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate. So I was thinking this could be similar by adding a bit of fudgyness to the center.
What it did was mute the flavor of the center. I don’t know how else to describe it. It didn’t taste chocolatey, just less peanut buttery but just as dense and creamy. It’s not offensively bad and if there were no regular Reese’s around I wouldn’t be adverse to this, but it seems kind of unnecessary. It’s like someone said, “I’d like a less peanutty Reese’s” and this is the result.
I understand the rationale behind the Extra Smooth & Creamy, after all, the center of a Reese’s Cup does have some peanut texture to it. There are people out there who like creamy peanut butter and those who like chunky. The change in texture definitely changed the dynamic here. It made it ultra dense and actually melded a lot of the flavors together. The chocolate didn’t seem distinct from the peanut butter; the sweet didn’t seem distinct from the salt.
The latest addition to the Reese’s line is the Reese’s Caramel. The promotion for this new cup is all over the place. It seems like a natural extension of the candy cup and I was more than willing to entertain the notion that it would work. The commercials and even the packaging suggests that it’s flowing, gooey caramel that’s easily distinguished from the other primary ingredients - peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not. I mean, I could detect a bit of additional sweetness, and if I took the cup apart the caramel by itself had a flavor, but it just wasn’t distinctive enough to play with the big hitters - chocolate and peanuts.
Also, it suffers from some mess issues. Sometimes I’ll take a bite of my candy cup and set it down and do something at my desk and then have another bite. That’s not really an option here. Eventually the caramel will come flowing out. Sticky, sticky caramel. Maybe as a miniature I’d be more happy.
The White Chocolate Reese’s is not for me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad bar, it’s got a nice balance and for white chocolate, it uses real cocoa butter so it has a buttery, creamy quality. The saltiness of the peanut butter and the sweetness of the white chocolate balance well, but it lacks a dark and intense punch that the milk chocolate can provide. I reviewed this previously.
(NOTE: As of early 2008 this product is now called White Reese’s, as it doesn’t use real white chocolate with cocoa butter. It is not as good as it used to be, sweeter and with a waxier mouthfeel.)
As if all the iterations of the classic cup of peanut butter inside chocolate isn’t enough, they messed around with proportion and portion. Witness the Big Cup. Below, I’ve illustrated the size difference of the regular Reese’s Cup and the Big Cup.
The regular cup is approximately .75 ounces, the Big Cup is 1.4 ounces (basically double).
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something to be said for proportion. But it’s not just the amount of chocolate and the amount of peanut butter, it also has to do with proximity and how it blends in the mouth. There’s too much peanut butter here! However, if you’re a peanut butter lover and are looking for a bigger peanut punch, this might be for you.
The Big Cup with Nuts seems to understand the idea of “unique selling proposition”. It’s a cup but with whole nuts in there (well, maybe they’re peanut halves)! What’s nice is that the nuts have room to spread out, instead of being crammed into the flatter regular cup. The nuts have a great crunch and really seem to set off the ultra-peanutty butter. These have also been released in a miniature version, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to work (I haven’t seen them in stores yet).
Like its smaller brother, the White Chocolate Big Cup features white chocolate made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated tropical oils. It smells like Easter and benefits from the bigger proportion of peanut butter. It’s still not appealing to me, though, but slightly better than the regular sized version.
The Reese’s line is certainly not limited to “cups” and I think I’ve reviewed most of the other items in the line: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions).
I could have held this review until I got a hold of the other new Limited Editions: Inside Out (which I think they’ve done before) and Fudge plus the Dark Chocolate Miniatures, but by then there’ll be something else on the horizon and this post will be REALLY long. I didn’t rate the candies individually but I give Reese’s a 9 out of 10 as a candy expression of peanut butter. There are some real misses in their line of candies (see previous reviews) but the new items like the cookies and of course the tried and true miniatures keep the average well above average.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn’t do a very good job of finding a lot of stuff at the end of Candy Season with the post-Easter sales. I think I did much better on the post-Valentines front and here’s one of the items I picked up at that time.
I’d never heard of Stephany but the side of the box said “always the perfect gift” which must also mean, “always the perfect after holiday bargain.” Though the box had hearts on the outside, nowhere did it say Valentines Day or love or anything like that, so I thought it could just be their regular design. It also had a smart little label that said that the candy was good until June 1, 2006!
Inside the box were four pieces of almond toffee covered in chocolate and rolled in crushed almonds. The chocolate was thick and sweet and the toffee hard but with a good toothsome cleave to it. The toffee had a good salty bit to it and the chocolate far outweighed the toffee in sweetness. The ample nuts were good and fresh.
What was also nice was the price and the fact that I could get something from Colorado (what is it about Colorado and toffee?) at my local Target.
But I guess the big news here is that Stephany’s Chocolates is no more. They closed down their factory and retail stores about 10 days ago according to news reports. I considered not posting anything at all about this candy, but I figured I bought it and took a photo and then ate it, I may as well document it so that other candy fans will know what happened.
Friday, April 28, 2006
I picked these up last December and have been munching on them.
There are some things that I really like about Scharffen Berger chocolate, but few of them have to do with taste. I like the idea of them. I like their design aesthetic, I like their vibe, I like their factory. I, unfortunately, don’t care much for their chocolate. Of course there are exceptions, such as the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, it just goes to show, you can’t judge all products by their brand.
Try as I might, I just can’t like their plain chocolates.
Extra Dark 82% Cacao - yes, it’s very dark lookin’ stuff. Lustrous and glossy, it has a nice snap and a strongly chocolatey smell. The immediate burst on the tongue is an astringency that just sucks you dry. There are some anise notes and even some basil all laced with an unpleasant bitterness. The chocolate itself is smooth but very sour. It’s great for making sauces though and this is the stuff I used at Thanksgiving for making a hard sauce for pecan pie.
Mint 62% Cacao - really, really minty. No, seriously ... you’ll take a bite and look at it the little bar and wonder why it even resembles chocolate. Kind of sweet, there’s a strange smoky quality to it that doesn’t really go with the mint.
Semisweet - after tasting the Extra Dark, this was more than semisweet, it was very sweet. It’s got a very strong woodsy base to it that reminds me of cedar. It’s slightly grainy, like the sugar isn’t completely emulsified with the chocolate or something. There is only the slightest indication of the acidity and astringency of the darker chocolate but it does have a hint of black pepper that I find very nice. Still, the mix of sweet, butter and chocolate flavors just isn’t right for my palate.
Milk Chocolate 41% - again with the tartness. Even the creamy dairy notes are missing, it’s smooth but it’s missing the fullness of flavor. There are lots of flavors at work here, but none of them particularly chocolatey.
Mocha - the coffee notes here are well rounded and feel much more honest than most coffee chocolates that I’ve tried. But it’s not as smooth and has both the acidity of the chocolate and the coffee that just combines in a way that in a way is tasty, but keeps me from eating a lot. But really, why would I want to keep buying a chocolate just because I don’t want to eat it that much?
I know I send some pretty mixed messages when it comes to Scharffen Berger. I raved about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, but I don’t like the chocolate that they make them into. I can’t explain it, so I’ll just let it be what it is.
It’s so weird how candy seems to appear sometimes. It might have been there all along, but it’s invisible to me unless I know what I’m looking for. For a long time I wasn’t even interested in GooGoo Clusters. Mostly because of the marshmallow element. It’s odd that I say that I don’t like marshmallows much, but then I look at the items I’ve reviewed and see the tally that I’ve posted about marshmallow candies 16 times before but only 9 posts about licorice or 10 about malt which are actually a favorites of mine. But in my defense I most recently tried the GooGoo Supreme because it included one of my favorite nuts, the Pecan.
As disappointing as that bar was, it did get me curious about the GooGoo Cluster. But where to find one? I thought about ordering them online, but it’s kind of a hassle and candy is all about easy, isn’t it? Then I was in the 99 Cent Only Store looking for some cheap storage bins for all my candy and I breezed through the candy aisle and saw them!
The GooGoo Cluster is a flat marshmallow center with a glaze of caramel which is then covered in a mix of milk chocolate studded with peanuts.
There are a lot of nuts, and they’re like those Spanish peanuts in that many still have their skins. It’s an interesting combination of textures and flavors. The goo is soft and though not quite flowing, it’s not foamy either. The caramel provides a good bit of chew to the whole thing and then there’s the chocolate and coconut. Yes, there’s coconut in here - which gives the peanuts much more of a nutty pop and makes everything taste creamier.
I was VERY suprised by this bar. First, I think it helps that it was obviously fresh. I’m often hesitant to review bargain store candy, but these are clearly not leftovers or closeouts. Second, it’s a great combination of flavors in the proper proportions. (As long as you like peanuts). It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t too gooey (if you can believe that a bar named GooGoo isn’t too gooey).
I just hope they keep selling them at the 99 Cent Only Store ... or maybe I hope they don’t!
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Thursday, April 27, 2006
When I did my review last week of Turkish Delight, Joanna of SugarSavvy.net suggested that I try Aplets & Cotlets. Since I’m allergic to walnuts, I did a little digging on their site and found that they have some nutless products and then I fortuitously found some at the 99 Cent Only Store over the weekend.
I’m already partial to Turkish Delight and I figured this was an American version and it pretty much is. They’re American flavors and they sounded interesting on the package:
Cherry Amaretto - oh, well, this one just combines two of my least favorite flavors! Actually, it wasn’t as bad as all that. It was more like a cherry pie (which I like) and had little cherry bits in it. It didn’t have much of an amaretto note, so I’m guessing folks who like amaretto would be upset by the false advertising, but I was thankful.
Apple Spice - an interesting idea but not very apple-y or very spicy. It was sweet and had a nice kind of apple pie scent, but not much flavor to go with it.
Orange Ginger - this one is the star and if I could buy a package of just this, I probably would. The orange rind bits were noticeable and provide a zesty and sometimes bitter snap. Not much ginger burn or spice to it, but a good earthy flavor.
Strawberry Conserve - very sweet but at the same time intensely fragrant without any sort of artificial note to it. No tartness, just all the sweet berry notes. Quite a few seeds in there too.
The strangest thing about this package was the array. The package was a tray with nine slots in it. But there were four flavors. So which one do you think had a bonus? The other odd thing was that each pair of flavors looked the same. It turns out that the bonus piece was Strawberry Conserve. I have no idea if yours will be the same.
The texture missed on actually being Turkish Delight, as it was a bit denser and more flavored. The candies are covered in fine granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar, so they’re not at all messy. They’re not really a candy that I would sit and munch on while watching TV or a movie, but I think it’d be nice to serve with tea. I’m kind of curious now to try their other varieties, especially the mint and true Lokum. However, the sizes they sell on the website are a little large for my desire to just sample, so I’ll keep my eye out for these smaller packages in stores.
Note: the website sells these in a section called “Nut Free”, however, if you have severe nut allergies, the package notes that the candies may contain traces of peanuts and other nuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.