Archive for November, 2009

11 Nov

Zero or Unsung Hero? 0

2zero

Nineteen Hundred and Twelve CE; Squaw Man, the first motion picture to come out of Hollywood, California is still two solar revolutions down the road while Hollywood, Minnesota gives birth to the “Hollywood Candy Company.” By the time the “Double” Zero Bar rolls out in 1920, the left coast Hollywood has pretty much supplanted its middle-American sister as the Hollywood by blossoming the film capital of the United States, though small but loyal generations of quietly delighted Zero bar buyers may still contest which city is more significant.

4zero

Never had a Zero bar? You’re not alone. While it’s been on the shelves relatively unchanged since its 1920 release (except for dropping the second Zero in 1934) despite numerous moves between distributors, the Zero bar doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact. In a scene historically dominated by variations on the chocolate/caramel/peanut schema, its unfortunate to see a candy bar that boasts white-fudge, nougat, almond and malted milk as principal ingredients receive so little attention. The Zero bar is different, see, but variety is the spice of life.

3zero

The white fudge, while not as melty or malleable as most chocolate coating, is at once creamier and more textured. Bites are smooth, but there’s a slight resistance that (to me) is a welcome departure from the super-soft consistency of many chocolate bars.  A thin layer of caramel beneath the fudge top-coat sweetens the pot and provides perfect contrast with the almond studded, malty, vaguely amaretto-tasting nougat core. The flavors are complex (some describe them as off-putting) but if you give the Zero bar a chance, you may just find you enjoy their rich blend and the uniquely tactile experience the combination offers. The Zero bar is also particularly delicious after a few hours in the freezer— a practice which was once wide-spread during the bar’s heyday and which Hollywood Candy Company encouraged by the name they chose for it (yeah, that’s right 0 degrees C baby; freezing point) and the bar’s original mascot—a polar bear!

Tell your friends, bring Zero back to number one! 

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6 Nov

Skor = Win? 0

skor

Superficially, everything about Hershey’s Skor bar shouts “dignity!” from its sleek, streamlined shape, sexy black label, bold crimson typeface and regal, tri-corned crown logo. Inside, you find a thin, very crispy piece of toffee coated in a thinner drizzling of milk chocolate, swirled appealingly on top (where it’s laid on slightly thicker) and stamped with diamond-shaped hatching on bottom– also pretty refined. I puzzled over this strangely familiar pattern when, while looking over my notes for this review, it hit me—shoeprints! Apparently “skor” is the Swedish word for “shoes.” Cool! I’m not sure what significance shoes (or Sweden) have in the history of the candy bar, but they certainly add to the mystique of the product.

In fact, mystique may be the greatest asset Skor has going for it—all the gimmicks perhaps intended to distract from the truth that, well, Skor just ain’t that good.

Don’t get me wrong, Skor certainly has good qualities, maybe even too good.  The chocolate coating (almost a leaf) is sweet and creamy, well blended and attractively textured to both the eye and the palette, while the toffee is incredibly buttery with a nicely contrasting brittleness. The first few bites I took were marvelously flavorful and balanced; all seemed right with the world. Yet as I made my way across the bar it started to turn on me. The chocolate turned to liquid sugar in my mouth, the toffee became the kind of buttery you only usually experience accidentally or as part of a dare. By the time I was done with the tiny bar I was panting, thirsty and fairly certain that I’d injured myself somehow.

I realized what had happened.

robocop

In the early 1980s, a brain trust of zealous Hershey chocolatiers, obsessed with out-heathing then competitor “heath bar,” created a confectionery super-soldier which, like all super-soldiers, would prove too powerful and turn on its masters. I should have known… The screaming excess of sweet and creamy/salty  was so 80′s I could practically feel the blaring, neon pink assault of Cyndi Lauper’s voice as I chewed on bravely.

cyndi

Above all else, a great confection must be subtle, and if you pause to reflect, I think you’ll agree that Skor may have outgrown its red eye make-up.

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3 Nov

Strange (but Delicious) Bedfellows 0

whoppers

The year is 1873. The place: Racine, Wisconsin. The players are James and William Horlick, two brothers—formerly of London—who have made their way to the U.S. in search of fame, fortune and a way to turn their pharmacological training into a marketable nutritional supplement for infants and invalids.  Their big idea: “Malted Milk,” a powder made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour and evaporated whole milk. By 1887 they had patented the powder, but while the golden bevies of infants and invalids did not at once descend en masse, demanding malted-milk by the barrelful, they were pleased to accept the patronage of Admiral Richard E. Byrd and other Antarctic explorers, who found in malted milk a source of food which was non-perishable, lightweight, nutritious and delicious. In fact, Byrd was so grateful for malted-milk that he named an Antarctic mountain range after the Horlicks on one of his subsequent voyages. Word of the remarkable product spread, and malted milk was soon a hit consumer beverage mix, even lending its name to the drug stores that mixed it with soda and ice-cream, becoming popularly known as “malt shops.”

maltedmilk

By 1939, malted milk made the leap from the drug-store to the candy shop when Overland Candy Company introduced the first chocolate covered malted-milk balls. This forerunner of the modern “Whopper” was known as the “Giant” and became a common fixture as an unwrapped, penny candy. When Overland merged with the Chicago Biscuit Company, Leaf Gum, and Leaf Machinery in 1947, malted milk balls were re-introduced as “whoppers” eventually becoming synonymous with the iconic milk-carton shaped box of today. While owned by Hershey since 1996, the whopper formula has remained true to its roots.

maltballs

So what are they like?  Well, there’s nothing quite like them. The chocolate coating is creamy, rich milk chocolate—delicious, but unremarkable in the candy world. The real heart of the whopper is its malted-milk interior.  Crispy, not oversweet, (but vaguely honeyed) and soluble at the touch of the tongue—the inside of the whopper is like some divine hybrid of wafer and nougat. Combined with the smooth chocolate coating, the whopper is an extremely rare (and satisfying) gustatory and tactile experience— kind of the gourmet corner-store candy par excellence.

richardbyrd

They might not save you from sub-zero temperatures, put you to sleep (as some rumors concerning malted milk suggest), or build you up quite like the Horlick brothers first intended, but whoppers will never let you down.

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