Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Easter candy from Hershey
Easter is upon us once again, which means candy is also upon us.  (And, shortly thereafter, within us.)  Normally my favorite thing about Easter candy is buying it the day after Easter when it's drastically discounted for no other reason than being in a different color package.  This year, however, I decided to try a different approach and pay attention to some of the varieties that are sold specifically for the holiday.  Indeed, these are probably the varieties which don't last until my discounted-purchase-day, so perhaps this will be a new experience of sorts. Hershey supplied us with the Easter themed candy to try and talk about and they out did themselves again!


 The first thing I picked up was a bag of Hershey's Eggs.  They're basically like oversized M&M's, and I approve of that.  It's as if somebody took a candy made for a child, and made it for an adult.  (Think about it, as you got older you started eating M&M's by the handful.  As it turns out, what you really wanted was Hershey's Eggs.)  And the increased size is a vast improvement over the competing confection.  More chocolate means more flavor on the palette.  You can genuinely taste it and think to your self, "Well, this is what milk chocolate should taste like."  It doesn't just take up space.  It's not just a snack for the sake of snacking.  It's a ball of milk chocolate, and that's exactly what I wanted.

Additionally, the increased size means a proportionally increased candy shell.  So rather than just being a transport vessel which for no other purpose than preventing the candy from melting, it actually adds to the texture of the snack overall.  As the surprisingly large ball of milk chocolate is crushed by my mighty jaws, the thicker candy shell shatters and mixes throughout the chocolate, providing a nice crunchy texture to the whole thing.  It's basically everything that's good about its competitor, but big enough to be noticed.

Next was a supposedly-not-as-new-as-I-thought take on the chocolate bunny.  I'd always assumed that chocolate bunnies were well defined and very finite in their nature.  There's solid, and there's hollow.  (More specifically, there's the one the kid wants and will last in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a month... And there's the one the kid actually gets.)  But I'm told that this new variety has apparently been around for a while now.  Guess I haven't been paying attention.  Anyway, the bunny I'm talking about is Hershey's Snapsy Snap-Apart Bunny.

I applaud the concept.  First of all, it's solid.  Which means it's one of the good chocolate bunnies.  But the one single drawback of solid chocolate bunnies has always been the inability to properly break them apart.  Sure, the ears are easy enough, but then what?  One person gets the ears and another gets the rest?  That's not good enough.  So Snapsy pre-cuts the chocolate to make it easier to, well, snap apart.  It's not a contrived effort, either.  The lines along which the snapping is intended to take place are legitimately part of the design of the bunny itself.  So finally, at long last, after decades of giving someone the ears and keeping the rest, I can now easily break apart the chocolate bunny into a handful of relatively even pieces.

I won't, of course.  Because it's my chocolate.  But I can, and that's the important part.

Third and last (because I can really only eat so much candy while I write this) is the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg.  Now, it's not secret that I love Reese's peanut butter and chocolate.  Did you know that they make a half-pound Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?  It dwarfs their "Reese's Big Cup" and even comes in twin packs.  Seriously, it's like something out of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.  If you want to both live and die by the peanut butter cup, that's the way to go.

But I digress... This is the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg.  It's sizable, weighing in at 6 ounces.  And the packaging really sells it, too.  The picture on the front of the package is the aforementioned egg sliced for serving sizes as though it were a Friendly's Jubilee Roll.  It's a Reese's Peanut Butter family dessert serving.  Removing it from the box finds it encased in a form-fitting plastic tray.  The shape of the tray reminds me of a fat king lying in bed, undoubtedly plump from satisfying his royal appetite for Reese's.  The egg resting upon the tray has the essence of FabergĂ©.  The entire experience of this dessert is decidedly regal.

Eating it is like eating any oversized Reese's candy.  (Except perhaps a ridiculously oversized Reese's Pieces.  Or, um, Reese's Piece.  I don't think they have those.  But they should.  Now.)  It's expected.  Which is good, because I expect Reese's.  It's what I want, and it's what they deliver.  Nay, this variety isn't about bringing anything particularly new, it's about decorating an existing experience with frills and elegance.  The only advice I can give is to prefer the center of it over the ends.  The ends are too chocolate-heavy, lacking in the peanut butter experience that defines Reese's.  It's not unlike the undesirable ends of a loaf of bread.  The real treat is in the middle, leave the ends for the kids.
I hope some of these are left over the day after Easter.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Halloween candy from Hershey

Everybody knows the best thing about Halloween is the candy.  Everything else is just a means to that end.  But, to be more accurate, the best thing about Halloween is getting better candy.  You know how it is... You buy the standard fare for passing out to the neighborhood kids, and you conveniently save the best stuff for last knowing full well that you're going to keep it.  Then, when your children come home from their own trick-or-treating, you quickly filter through their candy to put the standard fare into the bowl and swap out with the better stuff.  Get the uninteresting stuff out the door, get the better stuff into the house.  That's the name of the game.

And every year the various candy makers of the world try their own tricks to bring out the better treats.  But is there really anything new under the sun?  One likes to think that there's something left to still be discovered, but hasn't everything already been invented in this arena?  Hasn't every combination of chocolate and peanut butter been thoroughly explored?  Or does Willy Wonka's factory still have something new to show us?

This year we stumbled upon a few things we hadn't seen before.  They weren't necessarily "new" per se (that is, they weren't candy balloons or everlasting gobstoppers) but they were at least something.  They were attempts to set one's confection apart from the rest.  And, at least for that, a chocolate lover such as myself is very grateful.

First was the Cadbury Screme Egg.  It's basically a Cadbury Creme Egg, but with green filling.  What I admire most here is the attempt to break out of their type-cast market.  A Cadbury Creme Egg in October?  Is it... Is it left over from Easter?  What kind of upside down world is this when we're eating Cadbury Creme Eggs in autumn?  Normally I would yell at this confection to get off my lawn and get back to its own holiday season.  After all, in my day Cadbury Creme Eggs stayed in the springtime where they belonged.  But it's a brave new world, and it's apparently now one in which I genuinely risk walking in snow (uphill both ways, of course) to get a Cadbury Creme Egg.  I suppose I can accept that, because eating the ones that we've hoarded since Easter was starting to feel a little unsettling.

Second was the orange Kit Kat bars.  No, I don't mean the wrapper.  I mean the bar itself.  The chocolate was orange.  It's a simple enough trick to apply to a treat, what with artificial colors and preservatives and whatnot.  The weird part wasn't that the chocolate was orange.  The weird part was that the chocolate and the wrapper are orange.  And that should just never happen.  I can't really explain why.  So I won't.  Now, were these as good as regular Kit Kats?  I think I was distracted by the fact that the bar matched the paper, so it's tough to say.  But they do hold their own in a double-blind study, also known as a bowl of candy.  Having Kit Kats is always a good thing.  Having a mixture of regular and novelty Kit Kats adds some texture to the scene, which is nice.  By themselves they were stunningly "alright," but mixed in with the genuine article they provided a nice break from the ordinary.  And wasn't that a slogan of theirs at some point in antiquity?

Finally was the pumpkin spice Hershey Kisses.  You heard me.  Yes, it's October, which means that everything apparently needs pumpkin flavor.  While it's a bit much, I usually don't complain.  If I could eat fresh pumpkin pie all year long, I would.  Anybody who says otherwise is a communist.  But just because something is good doesn't mean that it needs to be added to everything else.  Two good things can mutually make each other... less good.  Oxygen is good, we need it to survive.  Too much will kill us.  Fire is good, it's one of the pivotal discoveries of ancient hominids.  Mix it with a lot of oxygen all willy-nilly-like and you're going to make the fire worse.  (Or, I suppose, better... depending on your predisposition to fire.)  The same can be said of chocolate and pumpkin spice.  It ends up not really tasting very pumpkin-y, since it's a chocolate candy and not a pumpkin.  And at the same time it also doesn't taste very chocolate-y, since it's polluted with an attempt to make it taste like something else.  There are many variations of the classic Hershey Kiss, and they are often quite good.  Classic, mini, peanut butter filled (my personal favorite), caramel filled, mint... to name a few.  But don't get carried away, Hershey.  The pumpkin ones are not necessary.  I hope not to see turkey flavored chocolate candies next month.  Nor will I long for pine tree flavored candies in the following month.  Stick with the candy, leave the gourds out of it.
(NB: I realize that this account referred to "October" in the present tense, and I equally realize that this is inaccurate.  Look, Halloween is at the end of October.  It's not only on the last day, but it's at night.  It's as late as it can possibly be in October while still being in October.  So one can naturally assume that any stories of Halloween will be told in November, when the rest of society is thinking ahead to the heartier foods of the next holiday.  I did intent to write this earlier, but I lapsed into a bit of a candy coma.  The doctors, by whom I mean the cashiers at the local convenience store, say that I should be fine if I slowly step down my doses.  The last thing I need is to relapse into what has become known as the great peanut butter withdrawal episode of 2011.  By the way, did I mention that Halloween candy is sold for pennies on the dollar in November, simply because the wrappers are different?)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: Hershey's Ice Breakers DUO

I don't like mints.  It's important that I preface with that statement so you can understand where I'm coming from here.  It's not that I'm against the concept of mints nor do I harbor any manner of grudge against them for some past transgressions.  Mints didn't tease me in grammar school.  They didn't rear-end my car on the highway.  I'm just not a fan of mint in general.  Even when served in the form of ice cream with chocolate chips or when delivered to my front door in cookie form by a young girl raising money for her "den."  (On both occasions the inclusion of chocolate is a noble gesture, but I'm afraid it remained overpowered by the mint.)

I simply find the flavor of mint aesthetically displeasing.  The air of minty freshness it releases chokes me.

So you can imagine my reaction upon receipt of a box of Ice Breaker DUO Fruit + Cool Mints in the post.  Is there an opposite to elation?  Apathy, perhaps?  Needless to say, I wasn't interested in trying some new mints.  My wife assured me, however, that these mints were somehow different.  They were in some way "fruity, not minty."  First of all, if that's the case then they're not in fact "mints."  They're... "fruits"?  No, clearly not.  That name has been taken.  Something else, perhaps.

But the package clearly says "mints" upon it.  The term is downplayed, to be certain, found just beneath the phrase "sugar free" (which also doesn't instill much confidence in me, truth be told).  The packaging is also clearly of the "mints" variety.  A small plastic cylinder, blue and white primarily, with various ice-inspired designs to convey a feeling of coldness... All features one would expect from mints.  But central to the label and more prominent than the word "mint" was the word "strawberry."

Surely, said I, surely that is some gimmicky apparatus.  Let me see then what thereat is and this mystery explore.  Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore.  Tis a mint and nothing more.

I'll be honest with you, or at least as honest as I can be in anonymous internet written form.  It's good.  I dare say it's not a mint at all.  It's a fruit, it's Ice Breaker DUO Fruit + Cool Mints.  (No, that name's been taken.  The product clearly needs better marketing.  We should brainstorm product names on the back of a pub napkin someday.)  Well, it's half-fruit.  The other half is auspiciously referred to as "cool."  Therein lies the marketing, I suppose.  It's not a mint, it's a "cool."  At least in part.

The overall sensation providing the aftertaste from the entire experience isn't quite as overpowering, quite as curiously strong as competing products may provide.  While I can't speak for the majority of the population in this matter, I can attest to my own appreciation of this.  It doesn't fully cleanse the palette, but it does provide flavor.  As any after-dinner... non-mint... should.  And I don't want my palette cleansed.  That is to say, I don't want to choke on a cloud of "coolness" while it overpowers the remnants of a perfectly good meal that I would like to continue to enjoy.

In the span of writing this, I've eaten several more of these non-mints.  The Ice Breaker DUO Fruit + Cool Mint packaging has two openings, one labeled "to share" which is small and allows only a single non-mint to escape upon shaking and the other labeled "not to share" which opens half of the lid and allows the owner to greedily finger about the contents and take as many as one likes.  Be assured that only the latter opening is needed.  Though the poetic reference of the option is neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

For the past couple of years the center console of my car has more often than not been equipped with a particular brand of gum.  It's a very good gum.  But it is still gum, which inevitably means that it must be disposed of when one is finished with it.  This is never a pleasant or dignified process, no matter how discretely executed.  I'd have replaced this small portion of my life with mints long ago, were it not for the small detail that mints are vile and unpleasant things.  Non-mints, however, may indeed succeed in breaking into the niche market that is the center console of my car.  All that remains is to find these at the checkout aisle as conveniently located as my chosen brand of gum so that these can instead be purchased with as much convenience.  Then the transition from gum would be complete.

I still don't like mints.  Non-mints, Ice Breaker DUO Fruit + Cool Mints, however, are thoroughly enjoyable.