Sponge Candy – Taste Testing

During a cold late winter evening, we ended up with 4 boxes of delightful Sponge Candy and plenty of personal opinions about what “good taste” really means.  Is it price?  Flavor?  The outside of the package or how that cute blond sales clerk treated you at the cash register…Hard to say – so, we convened a distinguished panel of local self-proclaimed Sponge Candy “experts” to weigh in on this issue.

Judge Fudge – Sponge Candy Judge & Jury

Our panel was very experienced – plenty of gray thinning hair and dental fillings plus the usual assortment of dental crowns, caps and root canals – the result of years of personally taste testing chocolates from Western New York.  So let’s not make any derogatory comments regarding expanding waist lines or how many panelists prefer to wear pants with those funky elasticized waist bands.  Nobody is going to easily fool these folks.  No-sir-ee!  So let’s take a look at the results of our First Annual Bite Into Buffalo event.  Four entries and four judges on the panel – sounds pretty “even-steven” to me…

Sponge Candy from Buffalo can take on a local character or flavor.  Most stores like to distance themselves from the competition by customizing the outer packaging, using unique chocolate brands or quality levels – everybody is trying to grab YOUR attention or your taste buds!  It starts from the first time you open the box and ends when you put the last piece into your mouth.  Call it “cradle to grave” marketing.

But our Judges were not distracted by what’s on the outside, only by what was on the INSIDE.  So, forget the labels, the fancy graphics on the box or those cute colorful stickers that tell you about the store’s name, address or marketing tag line.  After all, what we want is a satisfying taste of Western New York sponge candy.  We don’t enjoy eating the white cardboard box – just what is inside!  Four traditional categories were created:  Milk / Dark / Orange / White Chocolate sponge candy.  Our results were unique, and as they say…your mileage may vary…The opinions of our Judges varied from insightful to outlandish – math majors might even say the results are “statistically insignificant”.  But we stand by our Bottom Line.  Our conclusion?  Some are way better than others – it all depends on your taste buds or the evaluation criteria used…And now, let’s take a Bite Out of Buffalo!

We purchased four products from four locations and we used four Judges.  See where we are going with this?  Our retail purchases were made at:  Mike’s Homemade Candies (MC-Buffalo), Watson’s Chocolates (WC-Ellicottville), Oliver’s Candies (OC-Batavia) and Valvo’s Candy Store (VC-Silver Creek).  A pretty good geographic dispersion if you ask me…

Please note our system for our retail locations and geographic location from above.  Pay attention – it’s going to get much harder, trust me on this one.  Four flavors = four categories.  MC = milk chocolate (and) DC = dark chocolate (and) OC = orange chocolate (and) WC = white chocolate.  Any questions?  Good – then let’s move on…

In the Milk Chocolate Class: Milk chocolate is THE classic version of Buffalo Sponge Candy.  However, despite decades of production from all of the Big Boys in town, there is still quite a bit of variation in this category.

Comments on MC-Buffalo:

Creamy chocolate with crispy texture – I would buy this…

Where is the rest of my test portion – My sample piece just melted in my mouth

Comments on OC-Batavia:

Did not dissolve easily – but the chocolate layer was thick

Uniform coverage and coating on the outside – classic “ice cube” shape and size

Outside coating too hard – not crispy enough, gooey when chewing

Comments on VC-Silver Creek:

Not enough flavor – pieces crumbled when you bite into them

Noticed too many small random sized pieces in the box

Texture too firm – weird aftertaste – Hey, what’s up with that?

Comments on WC-Ellicottville:

Very thick top coating – inside actually stuck to my teeth – not as quick to melt in my mouth as the others

In the Dark Chocolate Class: Now some people like their sponge candy like they take their coffee – dark.  There is no formal definition of what can be called “dark” chocolate.  Some stores might actually call their dark chocolate sponge candy “semi-sweet” – but that’s almost like being “semi-pregnant”, you either are or you are not…

Comments on MC-Buffalo:

A direct quote from Judge Fudge:  “…and the Baby Bear said…just right…”

Deep chocolate flavor – very satisfying

Semi-sweet flavor really stands out

Comments on OC-Batavia:

Very flavorful outside – nice honeycomb texture

Weak chocolate finish on the tongue – too crunchy to bite easily

Comments on VC-Silver Creek:

Weak flavor – but light inside filling

Incomplete coverage – some pieces had bare spots on the bottom – outside layer too thin

Again, Judge Fudge remarked “…I thought I hear a loud noise in my ear when I started to bite into a piece, but it could have been my hearing aid acting up…”

Comments on WC-Ellicottville:

Very thick coating – but good finish at the end

In the Orange Chocolate Class:

Comments on MC-Buffalo:

Great orange flavor!  Definitely would stand in line to buy this product

Another quote from Judge Fudge:  “…a great source of Vitamin C…”

Subtle orange – not over whelming or artificial – Anita Bryant would approve!

Comments on OC-Batavia:

Note:  We did not have any in this category to test from this location…so let’s move on…

Comments on VC-Silver Creek:

Orange flavor did not stand out from the milk chocolate in a “mixed” box – this turned into a treasure hunt to find  just the orange flavored pieces – not a stand out by any means

Comments on WC-Ellicottville:

Note:  We did not have any in this category to test from this location…so let’s move on…again…

In the White Chocolate Class: Why anyone would want a piece of white chocolate is beyond me – but here are some comments to chew on…

Not A Happy Guy

Simon Says…No!

Comments on MC-Buffalo:

Based on a sample size of one prevented any direct comparison – 3 judges quickly concluded that “white” chocolate was way too sweet.  Inside sponge layer was “saturated” or soft – possibly by moisture from the heavy thick white chocolate layer.  Who knows for sure…

And the envelope please…and there will be no appeals to a higher court…

Best in Class: Dark Chocolate Sponge Candy from Mike’s Homemade Candies.  Judged to have the best flavor and the most consistent size of pieces when you open their one pound box.  Semi-sweet dark chocolate was smooth, creamy, uniformly thick with plenty of “staying power” – rated best buy at $16.50 per pound.

Best In Show: Once again, the drum roll please…it’s Mike’s Homemade Candies…again…Nice presentation in a white one pound box – very attractive round store sticker added colorful graphics.  The quality level of their dark and milk chocolate edged out their orange flavored chocolates – despite a unique and subtle orange flavor that remained on the tongue.  The only down side was their white chocolate sponge candy, but we consider this to a very minor drawback.

Bottom Line?  Mike’s Homemade Candies makes a classic example of Buffalo Sponge Candy you would be proud to send to Aunt Mary who probably now lives in a mobile home somewhere near Orlando, FL.   Now you know what Aunt Mary really gave up when she moved out of town!

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Sponge Candy – Clinton Street, Buffalo NY

Mike's Candies Storefront | Buffalo, NY

Mike’s Candies Storefront | Buffalo, NY

Well, I have to say that Mike’s Candies is the best example around of how to survive as a small business while the local neighborhood slips over the edge…O.K. – maybe that’s a little too tough on the area – how about just calling Mike’s Candies a “diamond in the rough”.  Their storefront is a well preserved building that was probably somebody’s house about 50 years ago.  This place is a colorful gem that has strong curb appeal.  Two neon “Open” signs in the front window.  What better way to announce your intentions that by hanging a sign out front that announces:  “Mike’s Homemade Candies” – short, sweet and to the point.  And I do mean sweet!

Park out front, walk up the steps, open the door then walk into Sponge Candy heaven.  No, you won’t find any religious statuary on their glass display counter ala Valvo’s Candy Store down in Silver Creek, NY.  No need to worship at the altar of the Chocolate God.   Just walk around the small store and you quickly surrender to the sweet aroma of Sponge Candy chocolate goodness.  Whooee…  No need for any Old Spice cologne before your next big date.  Just linger inside Mike’s Candies for a few minutes and let that delicious chocolate aroma soak deeply into your favorite polyester Leisure Suit.

Sponge Candy and Friends | Mike's Candies

Sponge Candy and Friends

A brief conversation with the young lady behind the glass counter told me that Mike’s Candies makes a raspberry sponge candy using a clear aromatic oil INSIDE the crisp honeycomb interior.  I didn’t know that.  On the other hand, orange flavored chocolate has the flavor IN the chocolate.  File that away under Interesting Sponge Factoid #93…

Another curve ball here is their “white chocolate sponge candy” – now call me Old School – but when it comes down to biting into a sweet piece of Buffalo – I will be the first to stand in a line to buy milk chocolate or dark chocolate sponge candy.  White reminds me too much of the long (and definitely) cold Buffalo winter.  Traditional milk chocolate sponge candy always reminds me that Spring can’t be too far away.  O.K. – try this word analogy:  Milk Chocolate Sponge candy is to Daffodils as White Chocolate Sponge Candy is to ????

You’re right – I could not figure that one out either…hence my concern about buying the white chocolate version…And don’t get me going about “peanut butter” sponge candy.  Hey – remember when Edsel Ford had a better idea – and look what happened to him! Yikes!

Ford Edsel Marketing Fiasco

Ford’s Better Idea | Seen any lately?

Do you need to know my secret Sponge Candy equation?  Hint:  variables include the “price-to-value” ratio multiplied by smoothness of the chocolate multiplied by 10 raised to the 2nd power.  Too much math?  Then let me just say that the price was reasonable, the dark chocolate Sponge Candy was my favorite and the ultimate secret ingredient might just be the special chocolate manufactured by Nestle.  The chocolate used in Mike’s Candies is about as smooth as Buffalo Sponge Candy can be.  Price was $16.50 per pound plus Erie County sales tax.  A good deal for a great product!  Enough said…

Sponge Candy – Silver Creek, NY

Sponge Candy Store - Silver Creek, NY

Valvo’s Candy Store – Silver Creek, NY

If there was one thing that I didn’t see at Valvo’s, it was a silver creek…But it was an interesting one hour ride anyway.  If you have the time, take a ride down the NYS Thruway to Exit #58, turn west on Route 5 and drive a short distance and Valvo’s Candy Store will be on the left.  You can’t miss it – just look for the very large (and tall…) concrete-ian – no, not a Martian, a concrete-ian.  Dolly is the tall, strong and silent type – you can’t miss her!

Dolly Dimples Wants To Meet You!

Dolly Dimples Loves Me!

Too bad there was a Lake Erie “breeze” blowing that day – otherwise I might have found this place by following the sweet aroma of milk chocolate Sponge Candy.No, it isn’t just Dolly Dimples – or those concrete lawn gnomes, animals and other creature shapes standing around the parking lot that attracts customers.This place has been here almost forever – actually since 1919 if you believe what is on their label.  Hey – call me Old School, but when you walk into their store you are confronted with an eclectic collection of religious statuary standing tall on the glass display cases.  Now that might cause you to hesitate a little bit, especially if you have not been to church for a confession.The chocolate products are way over the top and they offer a large selection of chocolate candies.  Some items on display may be “bulk packed” – you could definitely hang around the store for a while and not get bored.As they say:“…something for everybody…”

Bags of Sponge Candy

Sponge Candy In A Bag Anyone?

Valvo’s Sponge Candy is available in a two pound poly bag priced to save you a few bucks – but if you are in the gift giving mood, then you have to go with a standard one pound box of milk chocolate sponge candy.   A box of candy is much easier to wrap when you need to slip a treat under your Significant Other’s bedroom pillow during your pre-Easter nocturnal adventures!

They have a selection of milk chocolate, dark chocolate and orange flavored milk chocolate sponge candy.In my opinion, they charge a price “slightly” above the competition – a one pound box cost me $17 plus the Erie County sales tax – total cost of $18.50 out of pocket.I whipped out my credit card – I just can’t say no to Sponge Candy.Easter weekend is almost here.As someone who needed a lot of dental work once told me:“…you really can’t put a price on sponge candy from Western New York..”

My conclusion?  Valvo’s Candy Store is a little out of the way compared to the

Sponge Candy Time

It’s Sponge Candy Time !

majority of retail stores in (or around) the City of Buffalo, NY – but it’s a fun ride to Silver Creek – especially when it’s not snowing or if the NYS Thruway is NOT closed.But if (not when…) they decide to c lose the Thruway again – you might want to toss a few sponge candy pieces into your glove box just in case.Other drivers might prefer a space blanket in the trunk or a flashlight under their seat – but for me, the best way to spend a night stranded inside your vehicle in a Buffalo winter while you wait for the “boys with the plows” is to turn on the radio, turn off that damn cell phone, reach into the glove box and enjoy your emergency stash of Buffalo Sponge Candy.When it’s all gone, THEN you can turn on your cell phone and call for help!