Wednesday, January 14, 2015
It’s odd to think that the 10 most popular chocolate candy bars have been around longer than most of us. Those bars are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, M&Ms, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and KitKat, all of which were introduced before 1950. Plenty of candy bars have come and gone over the past century, but it’s so crowded at the top with those tried and true favorites. I bring this up because it’s rare for me to remember the introduction of a new candy bar that’s actually still on the market 25 years later.
Hershey’s launched a new line of chocolate bars in 1989 with a simple idea, that they were a little creamier than their famous Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with Almonds. They came up with the brand called Symphony and introduced them with actual fanfare ... commercials featuring classical music.
Their tagline was pretty good: They’ll never be another unfinished Symphony.
The packaging design is largely unchanged since their introduction in 1989. There are two different bars in the line, the same as at the launch. There’s a plain milk chocolate bar (with red accents) and the Symphony Creamy Milk Chocolate Almonds & Toffee Chips with blue accents. Though they’re both still on the market, the Almond and Toffee Chips is the easiest to find, since it’s distinctively different from those other top 10 bars.
The bars themselves have changed quite a bit, partly because Hershey’s no longer wraps their bars in foil with a paper sleeve. The Symphony bar I picked up bore a striking resemblance in shape to the Hershey’s Almond bar ... once I opened it, it was pretty clear why. It’s now the same mold. The previous versions of the bar had segments with the Symphony logo at the center of each.
The current ingredients are not at all premium:
I found a wrapper online from 2001 that tells a simpler story (but the current bar is .1 ounces larger):
When I was photographing the bar, I noticed that it had a lot of voids and bubbles in it, so I weighed it to make sure that it was accounted for in the bar. Sure enough, the bar weighed 43 grams, the wrapper states 42 grams.
Though it looks like a Hershey’s chocolate bar, it doesn’t taste like it. That’s not to say that it’s spectacular or that different from many of the other inexpensive chocolate bars, but it definitely doesn’t have the Hershey’s sharpness. Instead of the bar is fudgy sweet, so sweet that there’s very little chocolate flavor. The dairy notes are good, and combine well with the toasty flavors of the toffee chips and almond bits. It’s exceptionally sweet overall, only the inclusions give a little relief.
For the most part the bar gave me a sore throat. The combination is refreshing for the price point, but for a little more I could just get a Ritter Sport bar or even a Toblerone (but really the same price per ounce), since their bars are two times or more the size). If Hershey’s wants to step up their game with this bar, I think it needs a brand refresh - I’m not saying they need to go dark chocolate, but actual better chocolate like the Bliss line or going with a certified cacao source would help it stand out.
Friday, December 5, 2014
I have nothing against cherries. In fact, I love fresh cherries. I’m not fond of cherry flavored candies, so it stands to reason that I should actually like chocolate covered cherry cordials since they do have a real glace cherry at the center.
So a few years ago I tried the European version of Ferrero Mon Cheri ... which features a whole cherry in alcohol. That went well. But still, I’ve been hesitant to try some other varieties I see at drug store chains.
Though it seems odd, I thought I’d start at the bottom. I picked up the cheapest, but most widely available line I could find: Queen Anne Cordial Cherries which are made by World’s Finest Chocolate.
The boxes varied in price between $1.50 and $2.49 for a box that holds 10 cordial cherries totaling 6.6 ounces. Queen Anne makes cherries in a few versions: Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate as well as newer versions in French Vanilla and Black Cherry Cola. They also make a cordial blueberry, but I’ll save that for another time.
The packaging is far from elegant, but it is serviceable. There are ten candies in the box, each tray has five little plastic cups and the whole thing is sealed with a plastic film on top. The two trays are stacked in the box. The chocolates were in good shape, even though I’m guessing they get tossed around a bit en route.
Queen Anne Dark Chocolate Cordial Cherries were a good place to start. The chocolate can’t be particularly dark, as sugar is the first ingredient and the chocolate itself also contains anhydrous milk fat and PGPR. The cherries are souped up in high fructose corn syrup, citric acid and some extra Red Dye #40. The ingredients also mention another “dark coating” made from partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils and cocoa along with sugar.
They do look quite good and smell like, well, cherries but the cocoa notes of the chocolate do actually come through.
They’re a messy affair if one who likes to bite and not pop. I like to grab the cherry in the first bite to make sure I get it with the least amount of sugar ... leaving the syrup behind in the remaining hemisphere. The cherry is crisp and chewy with only a lightly tart note. But it tastes realistic and not quite as strongly of maraschino as some others.
It’s all overly sweet though, especially if I was going to eat the other half that didn’t have a cherry. The chocolate is passable, not overly sweet but also lacking a good quality creamy smooth note.
Though the nutrition panel says there’s only one more gram of sugar in this version over the dark, it’s astronomically sweeter. It’s pretty much inedible for me, though I’m sure some folks will enjoy the sugary vanilla blast. The cherry flavor is completely lost on me, which is too bad because the texture was spot on.
Oddly enough, this was the version I was looking forward to most. A bit of extra spicy flavor from the cola might help, and it actually did. The textures were the same, the cherries were firm and of good quality. The cola flavor was extremely mild, though. It was a little hint in the smell, and then maybe a whiff of it in the second bite. This one had the most maraschino flavor to it.
None are ever going to pass my lips again, not because they’re necessarily bad candy, but they’re certainly not the candy for me. There are better chocolate covered cordial cherries out there. A starting place will be finding better quality chocolate, as it should not just be treated like a container, but a gateway. So if I’m going to reset my brain to enjoy them, I think I should spend some time finding better ones.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Pecan Pie is actually just candy in a flaky pastry dough, as far as I’m concerned. The pecan pie filling is a cross between a custard and a fudge, a mix of fats and sugar ... all topped with caramelized pecans. Most pecan pie lacks enough pecans as far as I’m concerned, and I usually want mine in the filling, not just on top.
Even though this traveled about a thousand miles, it did well. The graham cracker base was just a little rounded off and about half of the pecans fell off the top. (But were very easy to just pour into my mouth from the package.) This version of pecan pie has milk chocolate ... which isn’t a bad thing, I often enjoy a chocolate pecan pie, or at least a pecan pie with a hot fudge sauce on it.
Like many pecan pies, the center here has no pecans in it, it’s just a penuche-type fudge center with excellent butter and brown sugar notes. The milk chocolate is actually less sweet than the center, which is nice, and the graham cracker moderates it all even more. The pecans are not integrated into this at all, which is disappointing, because they shouldn’t be the afterthought, they should be the center.
Still, as a confection, it’s quite nice, very sweet but a lot of textural interest. As a candy version of pecan pie, it fails. Don’t worry, I’m willing to eat Russell Stover’s mistakes.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Christmas candy is mostly about peppermint and chocolate and shiny colored foil wrapping. Holiday gum is rather unusual, so I was pleased to see Concord Confections part of the Tootsie Roll company has a variety for winter: Dubble Bubble Snow Balls.
I enjoy novelty gums for the same reason I enjoy other candy coated morsels: they’re fun to look at before eating. The Snow Balls are extremely cute. Each is the size of a garbanzo bean and rattle around easily in the theater size box. What I also liked about this particular gum was that they were white ... there was no artificial coloring (though there is titanium dioxide as a whitener), so I didn’t have to worry about anything getting into the flavor except what they intended as the flavor. The gum is made with sugar and corn syrup with no artificial sweeteners.
The pieces are beautiful. They’re rough and white and though spherical, they don’t roll around. The bite was wonderfully soft and easy to chew, but the flavor is ... well, it’s kind of like fabric softener at first. It’s floral - somewhere in the neighborhood of violet and maybe musk. After chewing (two pieces seemed like a good portion), the crunchy shell and gum base were very soft. However, within a minute, the sugar dissipated to the point that the gum was getting quite stiff ... another two minutes and it was an unchewable lump that was less appealing than a wad of paper. My style is to switch out at that point anyway, so I just spit out the first piece and repeat.
Now, since this was bubble gum, I should comment on those qualities. It works. The bubbles can’t get that big, as the gum base is too stiff and unforgiving. But it’s not particularly sticky, which is a plus. But it’s most definitely not bubble gum flavored, and any children you give this to might be turned off by the soapy notes.
After chewing, even a half hour later, I did notice a lingering floral taste in my mouth, rather like jasmine tea.
Dubble Bubble is peanut free and gluten free ... and in this instance is also free from dyes but may contain traces of soy. The gumballs are made in Canada.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Now, there’s nothing new about Christmas-themed candy corn, Reindeer Corn has been around at least since 1997, probably longer though perhaps by a different name. What I was intrigued by when I saw this on the shelf was that it’s called Candy Cane Candy Corn. Though the package doesn’t actually describe what’s inside, I was left to hope that it was peppermint flavored until I read the ingredients which list peppermint oil.
It was expensive, for candy corn, at $2.99 for the bag, but it is 15 ounces, which is just shy of a pound ... and more candy corn than I actually needed.
The pieces are actually different from Reindeer Corn, the current Jelly Belly version features a red base, green middle and white tip. These have a red base, white middle and green tip. Honestly, if I was making this, I’d make them in two colors only - red base with white tip and white base with red tip ... the effect of the randomized pieces would be much more candy-cane-ish than the inclusion of green.
The red base, however, uses Red #40 to color it. Which I don’t like. Which disappoints me.
In the package the candies smell pleasantly minty, but not overwhelming.
The pieces are beautifully formed and very nicely made. There were very few broken or incomplete pieces. I always like how Brach’s balances the slender look of their candy corn with a tender bite. They’re soft but not crumbly or sticky.
The mint flavor is like the fondant filling of a peppermint patty. So basically, if you like peppermint patties without the chocolate (and maybe a little food coloring) then you’ll find these refreshing. I compared the minty flavor to the center of a Pearson’s Peppermint Pattie (because that’s what I had sitting around in inventory) and found that the fondant inside the patty is a little fluffier, but otherwise has the same smooth texture and mint density.
I think this is a great idea. It’s a great little after dinner mint that looks great in a bowl but isn’t chalky or messy or too sensitive to heat. I’m shocked that I’m not only giving these a positive review, but going further to recommend them. Often I end a review by “wanting” something else out of the product, like a different flavor version, but this is good the way it is.
(Okay, I still kind of want root beer float candy corn.)
Friday, November 7, 2014
House brands are often cheap knock-offs of well known brands. But every once in a while a house brand has some sort of wizard-visionary behind the scenes ... I think Walgreen’s found one and put them to work on their Good & deLISH line of candies and snacks.
Many of these new candies are on trend with flavors like Red Velvet and Caramel Apple but also do a better job than some of the major brands like Russell Stover and Ghirardelli at creating well-priced candies you’d prefer to not share.
One of the items I found on the shelves kind of hidden in with the nuts were these new snack containers of candy or chocolate covered nuts and fruits. This one is Good and deLISH Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, a name so long it’s a wonder they fit it on the little wrapper.
Those of you’ve been reading for a while or have a Trader Joe’s in your area may recognize these, they’re similar to the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds. They’re an almond, covered in dark chocolate that’s also studded with small sea salt and raw sugar nuggets.
The package is a squat plastic jar that holds 5 ounces. The wide black cap is to be used as a snack cup, perhaps in the car. The jar is wide mouthed, so you can get your fingers in there, if you’re not using the lid as a dish. The overall look of the packaging is utilitarian but not at all appetizing. It looks like something I’d be more likely to find in use to store bolts and fasteners than candy.
They’re kind of homely little nuggets. It’s a crunchy roasted almond covered in semi-sweet chocolate (I’d guess about 50% cacao) with a little dash of salt or sugar sometimes ... then there’s a slight dusting of cocoa on the outside. The chocolate is sweet, not exceptionally smooth and boosted a little bit by some extra butterfat (not a vegan product, sorry). The nuts are crunchy and well roasted, with skins on. This leads to a lingering fiber to the chew. The chocolate has a light bitter note towards the end as well, but the beginning and middle is quite sweet for a dark chocolate item.
The thing is, I didn’t love these the first time I had them at Trader Joe’s, I don’t love them now, though on paper they seem to have all the right qualities. I want to know more about the chocolate in them and I want a little more consistency with the sugar and salt on top. While I found the Trader Joe’s batch I had too salty, these were merely too sweet ... even before the sugar crystals kicked in. I’ll see what else this line has to offer when they’re on sale ... I do like the concept of the package and would probably find this great for car or plane trips. The Walgreen’s site also shows this in an 11 ounce size, which is likely to be a better value.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Brach’s makes a variety of holiday versions of their individually wrapped nougats, but this is the first year they’ve made a Halloween Candy Corn version. The bag holds 12 ounces of three different color varieties of the candies. They come in yellow, white and orange, just like the layers of candy corn and each features a little image of candy corn at the center. Like many of Brach’s other candies, these are made in Mexico.
Nougat is already very similar to Candy Corn in its ingredients. It’s basically sugar, glucose (sugar syrup), honey and a little protein (in this case egg whites, some candy corn uses gelatin). It’s a little different from taffy in that it’s usually a bit softer chew and has a mild honey flavor. Nougat is usually a smoother texture than fondant, but they should both have a clean and fresh melt on the tongue without much tooth-sticky.
It’s hard to say that these are bad when they succeed at being exactly what they’re supposed to be. They’re a soft nougat that tastes like candy corn. So that’s good.
The chew is soft, really too soft. They’re not quite foamy or puffy like a marshmallow, but not chewy like a taffy. They’re not quite melt in your mouth divine like a French nougat, either.
Monday, October 20, 2014
This is a pumpkin shaped candy that’s flavored like Apple Pie. This is really nothing new, as Russell Stover has more than half a dozen holiday shaped treats that are flavored like baked treats: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake, Wedding Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread, Cookie Dough and Red Velvet. The packaging looks pretty much like the other Russell Stover one ounce pumpkin shaped candies, so I had to look carefully on the shelves to find it.
The Russell Stover Apple Pie Pumpkin is an apple pie flavored fudgy center covered in milk chocolate. At only one ounce, it’s a small little treat.
Since there are two versions of the Apple Pie on shelves, I thought I’d compare them.
The milk chocolate pumpkin is compact and has a nice enrobed milk chocolate coating. It’s not overly sweet but is milky and creamy. It’s a nice balance to the fudgy, grainy filling. It’s like a spice fudge center. It’s mostly a spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg maybe with a hint of lemon zest but there’s also an apple flavor that kind of floats above it all. There’s just enough salt to keep it interesting. Some of the other cake flavored pumpkins have actual cake mix in them (uncooked flour) but this is just a sugary, buttery center.
I enjoy these sorts of confections in small quantities and the chocolate kept it all together well, even if it kind of kept it from tasting like actual apple pie.
Russell Stover has started making year-round versions of some of their usual holiday items. The Big Bite line includes the Big Bite S’mores (which aren’t sold in any other format to date) and some Big Bite Caramel Apples. The Big Bite Apple Pie actually accomplishes an Apple Pie experience a bit better than the Pumpkin.
Like the Big Bite S’mores, this confection features a graham cracker base.
The Big Bite Apple Pie is twice the weight of the regular Pumpkin but features a large graham cracker base. The milk chocolate coating seems a little thinner, but the spiced penuche fudge filling is about the same. The addition of the graham cracker really brought home the pie notes, but the lack of actual apples and the anomalous existence of milk chocolate in an otherwise chocolateless pie kept this from being the best emulation ... but taking it for what it is, it’s a fun little candy. It’s different, it works.
In some other news, Russell Stover was purchased this year by Lindt & Sprungli, the same company that already owns Ghirardelli Chocolate. This makes Lindt the third largest chocolate company in the United States (behind Hershey’s and Mars, bumping Nestle out of third). It will be interesting to see what sort of changes Lindt will make, and I’m hoping they’re only improvements but they don’t lose this quirky little seasonal line.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.