REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Keep Caramel and Cookie On

Malted milk powder is a combination of barley malt, wheat flour, milk powder, and salt. Somehow that combination, originally developed as an infant formula in the early 1900’s, makes for one helluva tasty marriage with lusciously sweet ice cream. Although not seen too often in grocery store pints, the allure and boom of malt has outlasted its soda jerk peak of the 1940’s and still finds ways to sneak into our creamy fantasies every so often. Brand new for 2017, Ben & Jerry’s are inviting us all to chill the eff out with Keep Caramel and Cookie On, which combines a malted caramel ice cream with shortbread cookies, fudge flakes, and a caramel swirl.

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When I think about malt I think about a roast-y funk and when I think about caramel I think about sweet, and this malted caramel base has a nice balance of the two. There’s a noticeable wheat-y funkiness that cuts through the usual hyper-sweet intensity of caramel and creates a flavor very similar to a sweet cream with a little extra pizazz. The malt is less heavy than the vanilla malt in B&J’s Chubby Hubby but more interesting than your standard variety vanilla or B&J’s regular caramel base. I like it, it’s smooth, creamy, fun, and not too sweet, which leaves room for the real caramel to do its purely sugary job with authority.

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The caramel and fudge flakes both serve their purpose – bringing sweetness, texture, and overall variety to the predominantly tan pint. The caramel is straight forward – no salty or burnt notes to be found – integrating itself in thin wispiness throughout the container, and the fudge flakes are in perfect ratio with the other components. Some of the recent flavors from B&J’s have had way too many flakes for their own good, but here they are slightly smaller and less prominent and their melty semi-sweet cocoa presence is very welcome to the equation.

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My favorite component of this calming ice cream are the shortbread cookies. While they don’t stand out as particularly shortbread-y, aka crumbly and slightly firm, they have a great buttery, flour-forward semi-salty flavor with softened baked texture that goes really well with the double caramel profile. The pieces could honestly be sugar cookies or even cake with the way they’ve interacted with the cream, but I’m a sucker for both cake and cookies in frozen form and their mellow flavor really works.

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This is another release from Ben & Jerry’s that’s pretty safe but overall very enjoyable. It isn’t breaking any boundaries but it isn’t disappointing either. The malt in the base adds a bit of intrigue and the balance between all the components, at least in my pint, were spot on. At the very least it’s a far superior flavor to the other Target exclusive it replaced – A Swirled of Difference.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($4.49)

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies

Hot Cocoa is a sweet and creamy treat, usually served to children around the holiday’s to bring warmth and enjoyment to the greatest time of the year. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate base, made with either milk or water, and garnished with sweet melty marshmallows. Oreo cookies are a sweet and crunchy treat, usually served to children around lunch time to bring happiness and enjoyment to the rest of their day. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate cookie base, washed down with either milk or water, and filled with a sweet melty creme. Wait a minute…hot cocoa…Oreo’s…are they…the same thing?! In today’s edition of “Will this Oreo taste like an Oreo?” I present to you – Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo.

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The cookies look and smell different than your standard Oreo. The two-toned nature of the creme gives them an elevated appearance, but they kept the layers relatively small so the overall quantity is much similar to the original than Double Stuf variety. They carry an aroma that’s slightly more creamy and somehow reminds me of fake butter, almost like sticking my face into a tub of margarine. Weird.

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Initially the experience of chompin’ into these cocoa-fueled cookies is essentially the same as any other Oreo – a crispy bittersweet wafer with a sweeter, smoother creme in the middle. The amount of filling is kind of lackadaisical for me, especially coming after last month’s super plump Mystery Oreo, but then something interesting happens on the finish. While the flavor isn’t huge, the flavor on the end is definitely different than a regular Oreo, with a creamy, light, marshmallow-leaning note that does remind me of hot chocolate. You know that weird powdery hot chocolate mix with the very milk chocolate-y flavor and hard mini marshmallows? That’s the flavor I’m getting here, but it really only fights its way through at the very end.

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These are a perfect example of a middle tier Oreo that aren’t bad, but aren’t really that much different or really any better than the classic version. They definitely taste like hot cocoa,but the base profiles are so similar from the start that there isn’t a ton of intriguing variance. Nabisco tends to come through with a couple of these a year, and I don’t mind it because with over ten new limited editions I never buy regular Oreo…ever…and these are a nice replacement for that. Much like other slight twists on the established classic, like Filled Cupcake, or this years Fireworks, Hot Cocoa Oreo’s are a tasty cookie worthy of accompaniment to Santa’s tall glass of milk, but not worth trampling people Black Friday style to get them into your pantry.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s The Great Candycopia

Today is the one year anniversary of my first review on Sean’s Skillet. While I had written and rambled on about food on many occasions, October 30 was the day I finally took the plunge, and it all started with a review of a dark twist on one of my favorite Baskin Robbins flavors growing up – Trick Oreo Treat. It only seemed fitting that my one year anniversary review would be of my favorite ice cream company’s version of a trick-or-treat inspired scoop, with Salt & Straw’s The Great Candycopia; which combines a salted butterscotch ice cream with homemade snickers, whoppers, heath bars, and peanut butter cups.

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First things first, Tyler at Salt & Straw absolutely nailed this salted butterscotch base. Butterscotch is such a unique yet subtle flavor, defined by cracking the sugar at just the right time and balancing it with enough butter, vanilla, and salt to carry those soft creamy notes, and this ice cream hits it on the head. The flavor is unmistakably butterscotch, just like popping a cold and super velvety Werther’s original into your mouth over a long conversation on grandma’s floral print couch. There’s something nostalgic and whimsical hidden inside all of its sugary glory, and it’s those warm melty sweet notes that make butterscotch such a throwback autumn treat. While butterscotch can oftentimes comes off as a too intense sugary punch to the face, the salted aspect of the ice cream helps balance out the potential over-the-top nature of the base for a well rounded and decadent experience that is full bodied and glorious, with moments of reprieve.

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Reese’s and Snickers are two of my favorite candies of all time, and both of the in-house versions of these specialties are fantastic. The peanut butter cups are in large delicious chunks with a very smooth and rich peanut butter that reminds me of the great mini cups at Trader Joe’s. The PB is fatty and nutty without being too sweet, which makes it stand out against the beautifully intense butterscotch. The Snickers are a little bit farther from the original but just as delicious, with perfectly soft and smooth caramel inside of lush snappy chocolate with little bits of nuts to tie it all together. There are no peanuts in the ingredients but there are pecans, and I think they went with that autumn staple in lieu of the peanut, which gives some additional contrast against the flavor in the cups.

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Whoppers and Heath bars are much lower on my list of favorite candies, but goddamn do they work wonders in the recipe here. It’s no secret that toffee is terrific in ice cream, and the deep, burnt, brown sugar caramel notes exist in perfect harmony with the butterscotch, delivering a huge satisfying fatty crunch. The whoppers play a similar role, maintaining all of their crunchy character and bringing a funky malt flavor to the profile that once again plays perfectly with the butterscotch and pops with huge chomp-y satisfaction.

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From the first bite in all the way to the bottom of the pint this ice cream is like trick-or-treating in the best way. Digging into the sea of orange-y tan and chocolate brown I never knew what I was going to pull out, and oftentimes I didn’t know until I bit in. Would the bite be soft and creamy or hard and crunchy or smooth and sweet? It’s like reaching into a candy-stuffed pillow case after a successful night on the halloween prowl, pulling out treat after treat after treat. Fantastic.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (www.saltandstraw.com)

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REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano

The tale of two opposites attracting. When alternate worlds collide. The quintessential adult grocery store cookie meets teenage-girl-fueled food trend. Crunchy sophisticated fun fuses with basic bitch tendencies. Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano’s. Can this unlikely team up yield greatness? Today on the skillet we find out!

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The cookies have the classic Milano appearance – tan ovals with a thin layer of chocolate in the middle, but this one also has a fun deep orange oozing out of the sides. It’s a lovely color combination that screams spooky autumn vibes – reading books and playing chess with a roomful of dad’s happily crunching and sippin’ on English breakfast.

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The flavor of these iconically crispy cookies is surprisingly balanced and tasty – with neither chocolate or pumpkin being too dominant. The usually thin layer of the cookies’ innards is pivotal in achieving this optimal balance, as the chocolate doesn’t flex too prominently over the fall flavors and both are allowed to breathe without clashing. There are very apparent but not too intense notes of cinnamon and nutmeg flirting with just a hint of dark chocolate, and the crumbly, sweet, buttery body of the cookie smoothes both flavors out as the perfect mediator to these two often bold, potentially clashing flavors.

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Pepperidge Farm continues to impress me with their ability to combine elements that I’m not sure will work together, like dark chocolate and lime, and delivering a delicious product with finesse. The spice is subtle but pleasing and makes for a wonderful coffee companion while cozying up with a spooky novel on a dimly lit autumn morning.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($2.99)

REVIEW: Humphry Slocombe’s Golden Milk & Gingerbread (Whole Foods Exclusive)

Turmeric tea, also known as golden milk, is a warm and soothing chai-like combination of coconut milk, turmeric, and ginger, commonly consumed for both its flavor and anti-inflammatory healing properties. Picking up right where they left off with Hong Kong Milk Tea, Humphry Slocombe have once again joined forces with Melissa King to put a cold and creamy twist on a heralded hot beverage. Golden Milk & Gingerbread combines a turmeric, ginger, and honey ice cream with house made chocolate chip gingerbread and candied ginger. It is available starting today, October 25, at Whole Foods stores in Northern California.

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I like my ice cream to have a variety of textures and flavors, but sometimes a base is strong enough on its own to carry interest from first lick to the very end of a cone or pint. One of the most interesting naked ice cream’s I’ve had was from Humphry Slocombe earlier this year called A.C.T Golden Milk, and I’m happy to say this is that same fantastic base. It’s incredibly smooth and creamy, shining with the brilliant bright yellow color of turmeric, soft sweet honey notes, and wonderful spicy tingle of ginger. It’s sweet and spicy perfection with a hint of savoriness that works beautifully on its own but is elevated to a whole new level by the inclusion of gingerbread.

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I was wary going into this pint that the gingerbread was chocolate-chip-studded and not just straight up, as sometimes chocolate can clash with intense spices, but there is nothing but pure harmony going on with these flavors. The chocolate adds a nice crunch and sweet creaminess to the ample pieces of delicious gingerbread. The bread is present all throughout in lovely toothy crumbles and bigger chewy chunks, playing off of the wonderfully complex base in luscious cohesion.

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The icing on top of this lovely melty holiday-nostalgia-fueled gingerbread cake are the little pieces of chewy spicy candied ginger. They integrate themselves seamlessly with the chunks of gingerbread and pop out with even more sweet ginger-y pizazz. Their slightly softened texture and pronounced spiciness once again accentuate the intention behind the overall flavor and make for a very interesting and super crave-able scoop.

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Golden Milk & Gingerbread is Humphry Slocombe at the top of their game. Fusing together chef-inspired flavors into a sweet treat that is just as decadent and dessert-y as it is smart and elaborate. It’s almost a shame that this flavor is a Whole Foods exclusive because it ought to be tasted by as many people as possible. At the very least it gives us all an excuse to go out of our way for some organic produce, and stash up on a couple pints of this spicy brilliance.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Whole Foods Northern California

Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (98g) – 230 cal – 12g fat – 7g sat fat – 50mg cholesterol – 170mg sodium – 27g carbs – 23g sugar – 3g protein

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REVIEW: 7 Select Pumpkin Spice and Maple Sandwich Cookies

If you’re keen to the thrill of the junk hunt you are probably used to floating in and out of all the usual haunts – Target, Safeway, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. – but what the casual hunter may not know is the secret land of 711. Of course, we all know that they stock most of the iconic chips and candies by the big companies, but they also have an in house “7 Select” brand that’s cranking out some impressive products as well. I’ve covered a number of really good ones on my instagram – Pumpkin Spice Madeleine’s, Reese’s Brookie, and Colossal Peanut Butter Cup to name a few, and now am making the plunge to advance their autumn cookie duo to the big boy blog.

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Pumpkin Spice Sandwich Cookies:

These cookies are kind of strange. They don’t really smell like pumpkin spice at all, and have a generic not-that-sweet biscuit kind of aroma. The very pale wafer up against the very neon orange creme is bizarre, and the flavor isn’t too far behind. There is almost zero spiciness to be found, not even cinnamon, but they do taste like pumpkin. The vegetal squashy pumpkin flavor before it gets spiced up is somehow present, and while it is impressive, it isn’t all that enjoyable.

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The texture is less desirable than an Oreo as well, with a stiffer bite and dryer crumble than the cookie it’s trying to emulate generally offers. While I find the Pumpkin Spice Oreo to be a bit too mild for my tastes but overall tasty, these are even milder and don’t have the classic textures and nostalgic flair to back em up. Simply put, these aren’t disgusting but they taste pretty cheap, and are one of the weaker spiced offerings I’ve had this season.

Rating: 6/10

Maple Sandwich Cookies:

These cookies have a lot more promise, as immediately I can say I have never in my life had a half chocolate half vanilla cookie sandwich with maple creme. In fact, the combination of maple and chocolate is very rare to come across itself, and these practically jumped out at me off the shelf. A big sharp hyper-sweet maple aroma also jumps right out of the package as I open them, and I’m very glad I won’t have the scrounge-for-flavor experience that the pumpkin version provided.

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Yum! The maple flavor is big and sugary, sharing a lot of common traits with a good ole bottle of Log Cabin. It’s artificial but in a pleasant junk food kind of way and not overwhelmingly cloying or fake tasting. The textures are still less fresh and desirable than an Oreo or Joe Joe, with slightly stiff, almost too firm creme that freakishly holds its place with authority. The two-toned wafter action looks cooler than it tastes, but there is a mild bitter cocoa flavor that comes up to compliment the fairly bland vanilla one, and the execution overall works. These have a much stronger maple flavor than the Waffles & Syrup Oreo from earlier this year, and while they may not compete with the best leaf cookie, for 99 cents I’ll gladly take six more.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: 711 (99 cents each or 2 for $1.49)

TODAY! One day only Sean E. burger at Jack’s Prime

Jack’s Prime is one of my absolute favorite burger spots. I reviewed their fantastic Gobble Gobble turkey burger last year right here on the skillet and featured them as my restaurant of choice on Check Please, Bay Area. They decided to let someone outside of their company design a signature burger for the first time ever and by some magical luck that dude is ME! I was told I could use anything I want, and after scheming a number of profiles and combos I chose to highlight some of my favorite things with Sean E’s Spooky Sweet and Salty Burger.

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The sando combines a 1/3 pound angus beef patty, pulled pork, muenster cheese, garlic onion cinnamon chutney, and yellow mustard on a pretzel bun. It’s bold and complex while still being very agreeable and savory. The burger comes with a split order of half garlic half sweet potato fries, which is the combo Sil B and I always indulge in on our monthly visits to Jack’s. It’s only going to be around for one day, today, October 21, and if you’re in the area and want to taste something truly scintillating and spooky – stop into Jack’s and get your grub on!

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Jacks Prime is located at 3723 El Camino Real in San Mateo California and they’ll be serving the spooky burger from 11 AM until 10 PM while supplies last!