HOLY SMOKES I AM SO EXCITED. At long last, a small but profound earthquake has shaken up the candy world, which lo these many years has been mired in increasingly desperate combinations of chocolate and peanut butter.
Now don't get me wrong -- I'm a red-blooded American. No one can accuse me of not supporting peanut butter cups to beat the band. Chocolate and peanut is a venerable combination. I have always thought of Butterfinger as the croissant of candy -- the flaky, salty-sweet layers of buttery nirvana, enrobed in chocolate (I love robes!), are subtler than the endearing but blunter charms of peanut butter Twix. And bien sur, Mr. Goodbar and Fifth Avenue. But about there is where I've reached my surfeit of peanut and choc.
Frankly, Reese's new bars seem like sad cries for affection. Whipps? Fast Break? Big Cup? (What a cop-out! It's just a bigger cup!) NutRageous?! All of these are mediocre kicks in the side of the dead horse. NutRageous in particular gets my goat, because it isn't even good. It's as if the folks at Hershey (who bought Reese's some time ago) just grabbed a bunch of peanuts, caramel and peanut butter, had an Amateur Blob Sculpting contest, dipped the loser in chocolate and labeled it with a loud font.
For my money, if I want peanut butter and chocolate, those two ingredients are pretty sufficient, 'specially texture-wise. There's something about caramel and peanut butter that both squishes and sticks between the teeth in a most unpleasant fashion. How do I chew this? It's confusing. Also, it needs salt.
That's the great thing about Chick-o-Stick: adequate salt. God, now that's an inspired candy. Who in their wildest fantasies would've conceived peanut and coconut? (Actually it comes from the family-owned Atkinson Candy Co. in Lufkin, Texas. That B.E. Atkinson, Sr. was some kinda man!) There is something about the sticky flaky texture that is irresistible (not in the same way Jujyfruits and Dots are sticky; that's a whole other article). I am a big gummi fan, only the chewy-sticky ones, not the chewy rubbery ones. I don't understand most Asian candy. It's mostly repulsive. I must admit I really enjoy Haribo's Sour S'ghetti, which is carried locally by La Dolce Video in Northtown Arcata. Sour candy has become very popular the last 10 years, but too often the balance of sour to sweet is askew. Sour S'ghetti is just the right shape (noodle-shape) to impart an ideal balance of sour powder to fruity chew.
La Dolce Video has a small but interesting selection of Haribo Gummis and Ritter Chocolates; owner Amy informs me they are importing some Croatian candy bars later this summer, which I am thrilled about. They also carry the ever-popular Kinderbar, which I have been a closeted loather of for some time. I'm coming out now: I dislike hazelnut. I don't like Kinder anything. Nutella I choke down unwillingly. It is very hard to get a regular European chocolate bar without hazelnuts (by "regular" I mean gas-station candy bars).
I DO like British treats, however; they have the best selection in Humboldt at Murphy's Market in Sunnybrae (along with all sorts of cool and/or weird international foods). Brits have more playful ideas about candy. American Pop Rocks are impressive, but kind of gross. Liquorice allsorts and Sherbet Fountains, to my palate, are better and without pretence. At Murphy's they carry the British and Swedish Liqourice allsorts, the British being softer and better. They also carry Catherine Wheels (black licorice coils with fruity middles) and the aforementioned Sherbet Fountains (fizzy powder you suck through a licorice straw) as well as Tunnock's Chocolate Caramel Wafer, a lovely bar from Scotland, covered in milk choc. There's also a very good English brand of treacle toffee, with enough salt (finally).
Speaking of salt (again) can I take a second to entreat the community to join my Increase Salt in Rollos campaign? You can e-mail Hershey's at their website; I did it eight times this morning. It's a fundamentally sound candy with a pleasing shape orally, but if they'd just read the NY Times Food Section and SALT the caramel it could be sublime.
The great thing about candy bars is that they are not better made at home. I think it's the only product I can honestly say that about. When I want a Big Hunk, there is no artesanal substitute. I cannot make a Skor bar better than Hershey. I could make a variation, but why bother? For 99 cents I get exactly the toffee I want to eat. My pop disagrees; he likes his version of toffee, chock full ‘o real butter, better. But I say, for 99 cents, nothing tastes like a Skor and it certainly is less trouble.
Candy is a lot of work and the end result is rarely what you exactly want it to be. This result is particularly evidenced in jelly or nougat candies. Mike and Ikes and their subsidiaries, with their initial resistance and eventual chew, are impossible to replicate at home. I am not per se a fan of their various ingredients, but I am willing to ignore my ethical qualms for something so profoundly jewel-like.
That said, I am to candy as the hawk is to its prey, so when I spotted the NEW NECCOS, my heart skipped a beat. The earth quaked. Necco Wafers, to you poor uninitiates, are candy wafers made by the oldest multi-line candy company in the U.S., Necco (New England Confectionery Company) dates back to 1847. They make chalky melty faves -- Sweethearts Conversation Hearts is their other big hit. Both are made from corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, cornstarch and flavorings. (Do you think they used corn syrup in 1847?) Apparently, as of last year, they went "all natural" using red beet juice, purple cabbage, cocoa powder, paprika and turmeric to replace artificial ingredients. This has resulted in more intense flavors and less vivid colors; also they got rid of green because they couldn't find an adequate natural replacement. The new Neccos are -- are you ready? -- four DIFFERENT CHOCOLATE VARIETIES. As any candy eater knows, choc Neccos are the prize in the cereal box. The Holy Grail of wafers. In short, the best flavor out of eight. You only get two or three in a normal mixed roll. The new chocolate roll ("4 Great Flavors!" understatement city) has milk, dark, white chocolate and mocha flavors. If you have ever eaten a Necco then you understand the profundity of this occasion.
I searched Arcata high and low, but I have only been able to find one place to get them: the Shell station on Central in McKinleyville. Even there, it's a crapshoot, because apparently there's a lady who comes in once a week and buys 12 or so rolls at once. I entreated the Petromart on Alliance to order some, but their distributor doesn't carry them. I called Cormark, the McK-ville Shell distributor, but got no response to repeated messages. So for now, I will make the trek over the bridge in search of the elusive Chocolate Necco. It's well worth it. Plus, you can play Catholic Candy Communion!