As I was a child with a sweet tooth of heroic proportions, Halloween was always my favorite holiday. My parents refused to buy store-bought sweets, but this was purely an economic principle: They had no objection to me eating candy, so long as I acquired it myself. I also had to donate a third of my Halloween loot, but that simply encouraged me to get more in the first place, and moreover made me indifferent to the craptastic handouts so ably described by John Seaborn Gray recently.
A couple days would pass, and I'd have plowed through the top-shelf and mid-list candy, leaving a handful of Starbust and about 50 fun-size Mounds and Almond Joy. It's not that I had anything against either, but to paraphrase Heather Chandler, I didn't have anything for them either. That said, deprivation (the sort of deprivation felt by a suburban 10-year-old two days after Halloween) worked a strange and wonderful alchemy on those Peter Paul morsels. Chocolate and coconut? Sheer genius!
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It had been ten years since I had an Almond Joy or a Mounds, and I was curious how they held up: Were they inherently delicious, or only so at the tail end of a chocolate bender? Once I posed the question, I couldn't get that dumb "Sometimes you feel like a nut" jingle out of my head, which wouldn't have been so bad except that Mounds are shockingly difficult to find in Houston. After checking H-E-B, Randall's, Fiesta and Kroger in vain, I finally located a Mounds at a gas station. I was also comforted to discover that the Almond Joy/Mounds slogan has been scientifically proven to be unforgettable.
Mounds (est. 1921) If you bake with coconut, many recipes call for the presweetened shredded version, and that's precisely the taste of a Mounds bar: fruit forward (by which I mean coconut), with a hint of bitterness from the dark chocolate coating, and a strong fruit finish (by which I still mean coconut). It's an inoffensive trifle, but I expect more from my candy bar than something I could throw together myself in 30 seconds with a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and a microwave.
Almond Joy (est. 1947) This has the same coconut filling, but with almonds and milk chocolate. Yes, I know dark chocolate is more refined, nuanced and expressive than milk chocolate, that dark chocolate aficionados can distinguish among cultivars and cacao plantations, and that most high-end chocolate desserts are made with dark chocolate, and for all these reasons and more I ought to prefer dark chocolate. I don't care. I prefer milk chocolate, and I always have. And if I did want dark chocolate, I wouldn't get it from Hershey. Here, the coconut is also front and center, but its flavor and slight gumminess is nicely offset by the zesty crunch of the almond, and balanced by the thick, rich milk chocolate. A smoother ride altogether.
The Winner: Almond Joy, going away. Those grocery store stockers might be on to something.