Thursday, August 17, 2006
I was minding my own business, cruising the web back in the spring and I stumbled across another chocolate blog, The Chocolate Nerd. She’s only been around since March, but she’s got some sassy archives of chocolate products she’s tried. The one that drew me in at that moment was a post about a company I’d not heard about called Cocoa Bon.
Their current market niche is this set of little tins filled with wafers of chocolate or panned chocolate candies. When I went to Mel & Rose’s a couple of weekends ago I saw them there and decided to select a rather traditional item to give them a try.
The little tin is cute and seals a little fluted cup of plain, 61% cocoa solids chocolate pieces. Each has the name Cocoa Bon on them. They have a wonderful and sweet chocolate aroma. The back of the tin recommends a wine pairing, in this case a full-bodied Zinfandel.
The little disk is rather mundane looking but perfect for tasting. It melts quickly and fits into the roof of the mouth as it does. This 61% cacao version is buttery smooth and instantly sweet, taking just a few moments to release its chocolate notes. It has a slightly dry component and rather simple flavor that has only vague fruit and smoke notes. What really makes this chocolate appealing is the extra smooth melt. There are many chocolates out there that feel waxy or chalky at this level of solids, but this one is extra fine.
I’m curious to try the darker variety of 72% to see what that 11% will get me. I’m also curious to give the other panned sweets a go, with the Chai Chocolate Caramel and Dark Chocolate Gingersnap on my list at the moment.
At $3.29, these are a little more expensive than a gourmet bar (there’s only 2 ounces in there), but it’s the individual pieces and tin make it easy to share and even easier to keep some for later. They’re more expensive on the Cocoa Bon website, so you’re probably better off finding them in a store. I suspect you’re going to see them in gourmet foods and upscale wine & liquor stores. They also have a line of mixed drink flavored jelly beans. However, one thing I noticed about the website is that they sell larger quantities of the chocolates in half pound tins where the price isn’t bad at all (less than $20 a pound).
Cocoa Bon is having an open house in conjunction with The Mountain Winery at their Los Gatos, CA store location on Friday, August 18th & Saturday, August 19th from 5PM to 8PM. If you’re in the area, the event is free, so maybe you should check it out!
I suspect these little tins of candies would make an excellent wedding favor if you’ve got the money and I bet if you’ve got a large affair they could do special labeling.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Nerds have been around since the early eighties and I’ve never tried them. I was an early member of the Wonka fan club (you had to send in proofs of purchase) and I’ve never tried them. There’s actually a pretty long list of very common candy items that I’ve never tried, but this was one I decided to tick off my list.
Nerds are little panned crunchy and sour candies. They’re made by taking a little crystal of sugar and then tumbling them with successive layers of sour coating, then a coat of color. Nerds are irregular with some as small as a sesame seed and others as large as a dried pea. The unique selling proposition with Nerds is that they come in packages with two flavors in them and a separate dispensing opening. The flavor combo that got me off my bum to try them was Lightning Lemon/Amped Apple.
What I found out is that I’m not really missing anything by not eating Nerds.
The texture is good and the consistent crunchiness has a lot to recommend it, however, there’s really no flavor there. The distinction between the apple and lemon is rather scant. They’re both tart but little else. As for the SOUR! emblazoned on the box, well, they were sour, but not in all caps.
I can see these being very useful for a decorative element for cupcakes, but I can’t see myself buying them again. I know they have their fans, but I think I’m going to stick with Tart ‘n’ Tiny. For the record, I’m not an ice-chewer, so maybe that’s who these are marketed for. I have actually purchased the new Nerds Rope twice, but I haven’t actually eaten them (I think I gave one away in one of the contests), but I suspect they’re better in combination with something else like a gummi.
(While I’m on the subject of decorating with candy, check out Candy Addict’s Swimming Pool Cake ... if he decided to make an aquarium instead, this would make great colored gravel.)
Monday, August 14, 2006
I got to try the Dark Chocolate Raisinets at the All Candy Expo a couple of months ago and I was pretty underwhelmed. They handed them out in little sample cups, so there was no packaging to look at and after eating two sample cups I asked if they were the new dark ones, because they honestly didn’t taste that way. But these were on sale so I decided to give the retail product another try.
The new Dark Raisinets herald their healthiness on the package as a “natural source of antioxidants from fruit & dark chocolate” as well as “30% less fat than the leading chocolate brands.” I’ve got no complaints with either claim, although comparing Raisinets to a Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups seems rather like apples to chocolate covered oranges.
My other complaint is that they say it’s Dark Chocolate when really it’s just darker milk chocolate. The ingredients for the coating go like this: Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Vanillin, Natural Flavor.
But really, who cares? The big questions are, do they taste any different than the regular Raisinets and do they taste good?
They’re actually rather nice. The raisins are plump and often big. The chocolate coating is a little grainy and very sweet but provides a nice counterpoint to the tart chewiness of the raisins. I’ve been spoiled by Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Raisins for a long time which are wonderfully rich and complex and these are far from rivaling those. However, as a single serving pack that’s easy to find anywhere, I’d pick these up as a healthier alternative to a full on candy bar. There’s still 22% of your daily saturated fat intake in here including 5 mg of cholesterol (really, why’d they have to go and do that?), but also 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. And all those antioxidants, whatever they are.
A little history about Raisinets, Goobers and SnoCaps. All three were originally made by the Blumenthal Chocolate Company. Goobers were introduced first, then Raisins and finally SnoCaps. All were popular movie candy and for a long time the only place I could find them was at the concession counter. Nestle bought Blumenthal in 1984 and the candies gained wider distribution in a variety of packages with some slight changes in their recipes. Raisinets are a Kosher (OU D) product.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
There are many wonderful people who write into Candy Blog (either via email or comments) to keep me abreast of what’s going on out there in the sweet real world. As I’m mostly a hermit, these tips are invaluable and here are my follow-ups on the most recent tips:
Assorted Fruit Headline
I rushed off to the 99 Cent Only Store to find it’s true! I haven’t opened the bag yet, but I thought I’d share my delight with everyone else. I have no idea when Ferrara Pan decided to make this mixed bag or even if it’s because of that review. Yes, you can buy them separately in little boxes, but this is a much better deal.
Also, the bag is plastic, which means that the Fruit Heads are protected from the enemy of sugar candies ... humidity. (Many of you know the disappointment of a box of Lemonheads where the poor spheres are welded to the box and each other.) I should really follow up on my request for Grapefruitheads.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps
Sandy wrote to me earlier this week to tell me that there was a malted milk ball at the Dollar Tree. Well, I don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby, but as I was already at the 99 Cent Only Store searching for the Fruit Headline, I caught a huge display of these in the peg bag section: Limited Edition Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps.
I’m not sure why they call them “chocolate crisps” because they’re malted milk balls and they’re a pretty well known segment of the American candy pantheon. These were ridiculously good and again upset me to an insane degree because they’re limited edition. The chocolate is sweet and smooth with a slight coconutty note to it. The crisp center is light and malty with only a hint of sweetness. The packaging is completely uninspired, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as it is not only a limited edition item, but Mars has hinted that they’re discontinuing the Pop’ables line anyway. These were made in Australia. Super-addictive ... I ate the whole bag at work yesterday.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate
While I was poking around in the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store, I also found this little gem: Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate.
I’ve become a recent convert to Lindt via their impulsive truffles and couldn’t resist giving this “baking” bar a try to see if it rivaled their regular Lindt Excellence 70% bar that I see for three times the price at Cost Plus. At 3.5 ounces for 99 cents, it’s a fabulous deal for high-quality chocolate. They also had a semi-sweet bar that didn’t list the cocoa content (but sugar was the first ingredient on the list instead of chocolate).
I was worried that the bar would be past its prime, but it’s glossy and dark and with a good snap. Perfectly fresh. Lindt still isn’t my favorite chocolate, but at this price, it’s hard to buy a Hershey bar. This bar was made in France.
I give this a 7 out of 10! (Worth It)
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
I’m a complete dufus sometimes. I bought these thinking that they were chocolate/cocoa almonds. I don’t know what led me to believe that, seeing how they’re kinda small but perhaps it’s that I wanted some chocolate/cocoa almonds.
I got them at the 99 Cent Only Store, and though the package says that they’re 99 cents, they were only 50 cents.
Think of them as Peanut M&Ms without the crunchy candy shell.
They have a nice texture, the peanuts were good quality, although a little uneven in size. When you pop them in your mouth, they’re a little bland. The cocoa is only slightly bitter, but keeps the chocolate from melting. The chocolate was sweet but balanced well by the cocoa coating. The nuts inside tasted like dry roasted and salted peanuts, which is a completely different experience from Peanut M&Ms. The hit of salt really balances the chocolate and coconut and of course goes really well with the peanut itself.
They’re not as neat and clean to eat as M&Ms and other “glazed” chocolate nuts. Leaving these sit on a piece of paper on my desk means a bit of cocoa and sometimes a little greasy spot.
As a treat, I think I’d be most likely to eat this at a movie or while watching a video. It’s a large but controlled portion and the balance of salt and sweet would be pretty satisfying and of course little individual pieces makes for easy sharing.
The bag is a generous 2.5 ounces, so if you find these on sale, it’s a good deal. At 99 cents it’s still not bad either.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Here’s a candy that never entered into my field of candy vision: the Mint Julep. In fact, until about a year ago, I’m not sure I knew these existed. It’s not like I’m mint-blind. I guess what brought these into my realm was a new push by Necco to introduce them to new generations. That and there was a huge barrel of them at the All Candy Expo’s freebie room.
Frankly, I was afraid they were going to be like Mary Janes and pull out my teeth or something. Or maybe they were going to be like mint-flavored Starbursts.
But here’s what they are: they’re spearmint taffy.
They were nice. Not super strong tasting, very soft and chewy and pleasant. They didn’t rock my world, but I think they have a solid place in it now. They’re a really satisfying little candy - larger than a Starburst and in a flavor you’re not going to get anywhere else in this format. I can’t see myself buying a tub of these online or anything, but I would pick up one or two after brunch or something at the local diner to clear my palate.
Mint Juleps are also known as Southies and were made by the Squirrel company that also makes Nut Zippers. They are most often sold in little tubs by the register at convenience stores and diners. (This type of retailing is called “changemakers” as people will often spend the change from their bill on little items. The tubs are placed in places where it makes sense for such an impulse buy.) They were introduced in the 30s and then disappeared back in the nineties as the company was bought out and went through some changes. Necco brought them back about a year ago.
In case you were wondering what’s in the drink also called a Mint Julep, it’s simple syrup with some muddled spearmint sprigs in it, then combined with Bourbon and served over ice with more mint.
Mint Juleps are gluten free according to the Necco website (and the drink probably is too!).
Monday, August 7, 2006
Back in the eighties Nabisco had a candy called Bonkers, which were fruit chews similar to Starbursts ... except they were layered. It was a fruity chew with a fruitier chewier center. If you need a reminder of what they were, watch this commercial from the eighties I found on YouTube.
I didn’t know if they’d stopped making them but that’s what I thought I was buying when I picked these up.
First, these are made by Joyco. Second, there are no flavor layers. Third, the flavors are all wrong. Fourth, the label says they’re citrus fruits, but there’s a strawberry in there and last time I checked those don’t even grow on trees. Fifth, the package says there’s real honey in there. Real honey? And egg whites? What the heck are these, nougats? Sixth, well, none of that matters because these were positively awful.
Most of them were very hard, but some were only kind of hard. All were rather unpleasant in a way that I’m not quite able to put my finger on.
Strawberry: slightly floral and slightly putrid tasting. A little tangy but with sort of moldy/mossy note.
Lemon: tastes like a moist and ripe citrus burp.
Orange: tangy but with a rather uneven flavor that alternates between bile and tang.
I tried several times to taste these (waiting a couple of weeks in between, thinking it was me). It’s not me. They’re bad. I’ve debated long and hard about what to give these. I sat there with the wads of half chewed Bonkers in their wrappers in front of me and a foul feeling in my stomach and it’s clear I’m gonna have to give these a bad rating. (Believe me, I never set out to buy candy that I’m going to hate.) But I wanted to give them one last opportunity, so I offered them to the neighbors (and Amy always seems game for the worst of the worst but Robin conveniently reminds me when I try to get her to try things like this that she only likes chocolate). Amy spat it out on the sidewalk and then kicked it into the street. She described it as at first tasting like the plastic shelf it must have been sitting on in the store and then most decidedly vomit.
Yes, these get my first 1 out of 10. (Amy asked if there was a 0 rating.)
Friday, August 4, 2006
I don’t know if I would have noticed, except that the Sav-on had both the old version of the bar (sans peanuts) and the new one side by side and I was curious why the packaging was suddenly different and what made the new one “more satisfying.”
So I purchased both and went off to the Candy Blog labs to do some analyses. First, the bars say they weigh the same, but when placed on the trusty postal scale the More Satisfying with Peanuts version came in at exactly 2.0 ounces and the Less Satisfying with just Almonds clocked in at 1.9 ounces. What’s even more puzzling about this is that the label says that they weigh 1.76 ounces ... at least Mars is generous.
The original version shown above was easier to slice and seemed more “solid”. There weren’t copious amounts of almonds, but a fair amount. The bar was rather bland, as I mentioned in my review before. But there is something missing here, a toastiness, some sort of flavor.
So the big thing I noticed right away was how difficult it was to slice this bar easily. It was kind of mucky ... not melted or anything, just not as structural. I think there may be more caramel now. Instead of just going back to a better tasting nougat, the Mars folks created the hybrid Snickers/Mars Frankenbar. It’s a Mars bar that tastes like a Snickers. Really, why buy this? It doesn’t taste like almonds ... if anything, it’s just a Snickers bar that’s a little smaller.
As a touchstone I went out and bought/consumed a standard Snickers bar. It really tasted no different except the Snickers Almond was a little crunchier because almonds are bigger than peanuts.
This got me to thinking about the ingredients, so here’s a run down of the top contents of the Less Satisfying Snickers Almond, More Satisfying Snickers Almond and the Satisfying Snickers (Peanut):
LS Snickers Almond…...MS Snickers Almond…..Plain Old Snickers
But let’s go back to that statement on the new Snickers Almond bar ... what exactly makes satisfaction?
Less Satisfying Snickers Almond: 230 Calories & 1.76 ounces (that’s 131 calories per ounce)
Could satisfaction be another word for caloric density?
While I find the More Satisfying Snickers Almond a little more tasty than before, its resemblance to the classic Snickers Peanut makes it superfluous. There are so few almond choices out there, why take this one away? I’m giving the Now More Satisfying Snickers Almond bar the same rating I gave the original.
(I’m also a little miffed that I consumed about 750 calories for this one review! I just hope none of them contained mouse droppings.)
Note: I looked at the Snickers website and they still list the old ingredients for the Snickers Almond bar.
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Well, the old new Snickers Almond is back. Here’s a brief revisit with the bar:
I like the bar (though I prefer the dark chocolate version) and I’m glad they brought it back.
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