Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Candy Corn is brilliantly simple and captures the essential nature of corn itself very well. Corn (I mean dent corn, not the fresh-eating sweet corn) is ubiquitous and exceptionally versatile; it can be used to create oil, sweeteners, cereals, starches, feeds and even plastics.
Candy Corn reflects that versatility well, in that it looks like food, but it is much better at boosting the appeal of other foods as a decoration or merely a side dish to more appealing things. Like corn in our everyday lives as North Americans, it’s everywhere at Halloween. Candy corn is a fondant, and fondant is basically a butterless, chocolateless fudge. It’s just sugar and corn syrup, sometimes flavored with a bit of honey and sometimes held together with a bit of gelatin or egg white.It’s kind of sad that candy corn has become some sort of punchline to jokes about reviled foods, but it must have lovers or at least likers, or else candy companies wouldn’t make so much of it.
Wrigley’s seems to have latched onto the seasonal quality of candy corn for their new Starburst Original Fruit Flavored Candy Corn but discarded most of the other qualities of candy corn. They’re brightly colored, fruitly flavored unlike normal candy corn. The only thing that remains is the triangular shape and layering of colors.
Each candy is three tiers of one of the Original Starburst flavors: cherry, strawberry, orange and lemon. All have white tips, light centers and dark bases.What’s particularly odd about them is that they’re flavored the same on all levels. At the bottom of the bag was a bunch of the little white tips that had broken off and they were absolutely just as flavorful as the colored bottoms. The other thing is they’re not a traditionally “flavored” mellocreme. The others that I’ve had are usually light - maple or cocoa flavored perhaps, or with mild fruit essences. The Starburst Candy Corn is going for true Starburst juicy flavor - sweet, fruity and tart.
Cherry was the darkest red. It tasted quite strongly of that artificial cherry that Life Savers and Starburst share. There’s a sharpness towards the end and an overall pleasant tartness. The texture is good, it’s soft and though it doesn’t quite melt in your mouth, it’s smooth. The flavor lingered, again, medicinal and artificial.
Strawberry was pink and had a similar sort of medicinal quality like the cherry. It wasn’t floral or jammy, just artificial tasting.
Orange was like a creamsicle, sweet but tart enough that it had a sort of aspergum finish to it. This too had a lingering aftertaste, kind of like yogurt or soured milk.
Lemon was probably the most successful, but that’s not saying much. The lemon had a hint of zest but mostly was like a lemon sherbet flavor.
On the whole, I found them a pleasant experience, but I was left wondering why I was eating them. I didn’t like the flavor variety, the aftertaste was odd and the tartness distracted from what is usually a very mild and comforting candy. I think to celebrate the season, I’ll just form my regular Starburst Chews into little triangles and enjoy them that way.
Starburst has really extended their fruit chew brand in a lot of ways. There are or have been jelly beans, lollipops, drinks, gummis and now mellocremes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Starburst gum, red licorice type chew or chocolately Tootsie Roll styled product. Only time will tell.
The ingredients do not list any eggs or gelatin, which I found surprising. It does list confectioners glaze, which usually means shellac so it’s not a vegan product.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The Boyer Candy Company may be best known for their Mallo Cups, which they’ve been making since the 1930s which they claim is the first “cup candy”. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were introduced in 1928, but were not actually sold in little fluted paper cups at first.)
It’s natural for there to be other versions of the chocolate cup with a marshmallow filling and coconut topping. The Boyer Dark Chocolate Mallo Cup is really just the same, even the simple packaging looks like they’ve been making this version for 50 years.
The bumpy top of the cup shows that there is actually some coconut underneath. Like every Mallo Cup I think I’ve had in the past 20 years, the bottom stuck to the wrapper (I think freezing them prevents this, but changes the textures). It smells a bit like coconut and of course chocolate with a strong whiff of vanilla.
The interesting thing to note about the Mallo Cups is that they’re not actually marshmallow. (Though the name is Mallo Cup, the description on the package says that the center is whipped creme.) Marshmallow, for the most part, is made with gelatin. The Mallo Cups are made with egg whites. That would mean that these are really a meringue creme. The center is a great texture, it’s soft and creamy without too much stickiness and no grain whatsoever.
The dark chocolate has a decent flavor to it, though not complex or overpowering, it has a nice chocolate candy contribution to the whole. The coconut flakes within give some texture ... overall, it’s a good modernization of the classic candy cups. I’d love it if they spent a little time fixing the production issue of the oozing and insufficient base.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
For me, Klondike Bars always seemed like a candified version of ice cream. So it seemed a bit odd to see that there was a new line of Klondike Bar themed candies, under license from Unilver and made by Flix Candy.
I picked up the Klondike Mint Chocolate Chip: The Candy! at Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is walking distance from my office. The candy bars there are stupidly expensive, this was $2.29, which is pretty steep for something that isn’t fair trade, organic, shade grown and packaged in a reusable, recycled tin. But the back of the package does say that they’re made in the USA.
It’s been years since I’ve had a Klondike Bar, but here’s how they described this room temperature,shelf stable version: Mint chocolate chip center covered in dark chocolate flavored coating.
Though it’s easy to shudder at what the chocolate flavored coating might mean, I reminded myself that most ice cream novelties also aren’t made with real chocolate, in order to get the right mouthfeel on a frozen dessert, many use other tropical oils in addition to the chocolate solids.
First, it’s not one big block, it’s four one inch square pieces. That’s fine with me. That was always one of the most frustrating things about Klondike Bars, they were too big for me to eat before they started to melt from holding them.
The coating is actually okay. It’s not greasy or slippery or too soft or too crunchy. It’s actually chocolatey. The filling is overwhelming tough. The pieces smell strongly of peppermint. The center is kind of like a frosting cream though not grainy. The center is a little smoother, maybe a little fattier than the filling of a York Peppermint Pattie. There’s a salty note to the center, which moderates the sweetness. If there were chocolate chips anywhere in the middle, I missed them.
Ultimately, I don’t see much reason to eat this instead of a York Peppermint Pattie or if I’m really going decadent, the Trader Joe’s Honey Mints. But I admit, the packaging is pretty good.
Friday, August 16, 2013
A solid layer of crunchy peanut butter topped with caramel and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
It’s made with dairy-free rice “milk” chocolate which can’t actually be called chocolate according to the FDA, which has strict standards about such things. However, there are no other fillers in it, just cacao, cocoa butter and some evaporated cane juice. It’s an actual vegan candy bar that’s also fair trade and organic. That’s a rare thing. Of course, feeling good before you eat the candy is nice, but not really very productive if it doesn’t actually taste good. Now that I’ve tried all three of Eli’s Earth Bars multiple times, I’m ready to say that they’re actually good, but a little funky.
There’s really no comparison for this bar to a commercial bar on shelves today. The center is like a crushed Butterfinger bar (or if you prefer, the vegan version would be an Atkinson’s Chick-o-Stick) mixed in with some peanut butter and then a layer of caramel then covered in chocolate.
It smells peanutty and sweet and a little like Cap’n Crunch. The rice milk chocolate coating is a little greasy and thin tasting, it’s more like a chocolate milk taste than an actual chocolate taste. The soft center is sweet peanut butter with a bunch of crunchy, peanut crisp lumps. Then there’s a stripe of caramel on the top that gives the whole thing a chew.
It’s odd, not quite successful but still compelling enough that I always eat the whole bar. (I’ve tried this bar three times now.) If you don’t or can’t eat dairy, this is a very tasty approximation of a dairy bar (but it’s made on equipment that does use dairy, so not for those with true allergies). But I’d prefer to just eat Chick-o-Sticks if I need a vegan peanut candy fix.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.