One of the many joys about my recent vacation in Pennsylvania, was the plethora of chocolate which just seemed to jump in front of me. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there was some sort of new chocolate experience. Whoopie pies at the farmer’s market, fudge at the railroad, chocolate/vanilla swirl soft serve at Sesame Place, and at Hershey, well, I mean, there is an entire city devoted to chocolate. Turns out Belinda Carlisle was right: heaven is a place on earth.
Now, I’m not exactly the biggest Hershey fan on the planet. A bag of their kisses will never be what I reach for when I’m having a cocoa craving (in part because I over-indulged when I was like 10, got really sick and have basically Nanceefied* kisses). Neither will their original chocolate bars. I like milk chocolate and all, but a plain chocolate bar without any bells or whistles? Not unless it’s the really, really good stuff. I have to admit I don’t even use their chocolate syrup or cocoa powder (I’m a snob, I use Penzey’s Dutch process cocoa powder because it is AMAZING). But, there was no way in the world I could stop in Hershey and NOT take a drive by Hershey’s Chocolate World. Come on, it’s called Chocolate World…I was sold.
As I said, their plain old bars don’t ring any bells for me, but I have a definite soft spot in my heart for lots of their candy bars. Heck, what right-minded, candy-lovin’ person doesn’t? This is the company that brought Reese’s, Heath, Almond Joy and a score of others to grocery store check out stands so that I could drool and plead with my mom every time she took me shopping. Speaking of the score of other bars, Skor bars are theirs too. I never realized it as a child and was in a sort of constant childhood debate between Heath and Skor. Turned out I didn’t need be. I was supporting the same family no matter which kind of toffee I wanted.
So, imagine my joy when we were in the Hershey “store” and I found not only all of my childhood favorites, but also a whole stand devoted to a slightly more grown up favorite of mine: Cadbury.
When I visited London for the first time in 2004, Cadbury saved my life. Ok, so maybe they didn’t exactly save it, but they were a reviving force without which I might have crumpled into a lifeless heap in a tube station. I was one of two adult chaperones on a summer theater trip to London. Everything I’d read about England’s weather had prepared me for balmy temps in the low 70’s. So, that is exactly what I packed for. Imagine my amazement when we arrived right smack at the start of a European heat wave. London was posting temps in the high 80’s and low 90’s and our tour guide had us on daily forced marches around town with few stops for lukewarm water and small, bland dinners.
This is where Cadbury enters the picture. After a full day of walking and barely eating, I found candy machines in the tube stations. These glorious beacons of hope offered me life-sustaining chocolate for a mere 50 p. It was in one of those stifling hot stations, where, after riding for twenty minutes next to two men who had no concept of personal space or body odor, that I found the Caramilk. It was love at first bite.
Turns out that it was pretty much the same thing I’d been eating (and loving) back in the states, but instead of being in a shiny brown, red and gold wrapper and called a Caramello, it was in the more traditional Cadbury purple and called Caramilk. Still, there was something about eating it when half-starved and fully exhausted in London that just made it the best damn caramel filled candy bar I’d ever had.
So, when in the Hershey store, I found not only the British packed version, but also a shiny purple wrapper touting a soft English toffee, I was in chocolate heaven! I grabbed both and skipped to the register. Yes, I realize I can get the a Caramello at any ol’ gas station in the country, but not in the purple wrapper (and I swear it improves the taste). But, I’d never seen the soft toffee one before, so I figured I had to have it for comparison sake.
The soft English toffee bar is similar to the Caramello. This shouldn’t really be a shock. While what we Americans think of as English toffee is both taste and texture wise quite different from caramel, one thing I learned while in England, is that what they often refer to as toffee, is not at all what I was used to. It is the stuff Harry Potter and his buddies talk about when they eat sticky toffee pudding. And in fact, soft toffee is a lot like caramel, at least in texture. It has that same, gooey stringiness one expects from caramel. The difference comes in the taste. It is not, the buttery richness of American toffee. Much like another of my English favorites, treacle pudding, soft toffee also has a sort of molasses hint to it. It also has more of a burnt sugar taste to it. Far more butterscotch than butter toffee.
Cadbury’s soft toffee had not only the burnt sugar hints, but also a just a tiny hint of molasses. It reminded far more of the treacle pudding I had at a Garfield’s in London (which I’ll admit was totally because both Alice in Wonderland and the Harry Potter kids both bring up the stuff). The creaminess of the milk chocolate does help set off the slightly bitter bite the soft toffee has. It also helps to mask the difference between the super buttery toffee taste my American palette expects when it sees the word toffee and the reality of the darker, heavier, and burningly sweeter taste of the British version. It is sweeter than caramel, which is texturally what my mouth expected. It was not a bar I could eat more than six squares of at a time, which is good, since that’s a serving (although less than half the actual bar).
All in all, the bar is still toffee, and I do LOVES me some toffee. It was satisfying and rich. I think I may even like it better than it’s more American cousin, the Caramello. But, I’ll have to eat that bar to make sure. It’s only fair, right?
Price: 7/10 (it was a big bar and considering I was at a tourist attraction AND I’d never seen this one before, I thought the price of $2 wasn’t bad)
Appearance: 5/10 (it’s nothing to look at)
*Nanceefied is a term we use in honor of a dear friend who has a bad habit of eating so much of a food that she makes her self ill and then cannot be induced to eat that food again…no matter what.