REVIEW: Quest Birthday Cake Coated Protein Bar

If pumpkin spice is the seasonal signifier of the basic b, then birthday cake is the quintessential staple of the basic’s day to day favorite flavor. My tastebud’s tendencies keep me right in line with all the basic ladies of the world, and just like I love me some spice I love me a good birthday cake flavored treat. Ice cream, candy, lotion, candles, and yep, protein bars. While this trend is far from new, in fact I think it peaked a couple years ago, the biggest player in the protein bar game are extremely late to the party. This week Quest showed up when everyone was already wasted and stumbling with their Birthday Cake coated protein bar.

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This bar is a bit of a deviation for the company, using a coated outer layer similar to Oh Yeah’s One bars instead of the usual plain outer skin. It certainly looks pretty enough, studded with a smattering of fun confetti dots and a semi-glossy coating that is incredibly soft and smooth.

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Biting in the initial taste is very creamy, sweet, and slightly salty, making a combination that truly does remind me of a well balanced buttercream. The texture is soft, chewy, and fresh, leaving a pretty positive initial impression. Unfortunately after the first couple chews a very strong and unpleasant artificial sugar flavor takes over that is inescapably powerful. While Quest bars do tend to carry a bit of a sucralose finish, this bar leans way too heavy on an astringent artificial flavor that takes away from any birthday cake potential it had. While the outer coating provides some nice creaminess, the inside of the bar is very bland and flavorless, leaving little reason to want to eat more of these bars.

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The biggest issue here, aside from the fact that the bar legitimately doesn’t taste good, is that there are far too many better options already on the market. Oh Yeah One’s Birthday Cake is a staple with comparable macros, and very strong offerings from MuscleTech and Fit Joy have been out for over a year as well. Quest has had some pretty solid releases recently with Mocha Chocolate Chip and last years Cereal Bars, but this one is a major step backwards for a company that at this point really needs to be pushing the envelope with portable protein supplements. If someone showed up to my birthday party with this bar I would revoke their party privileges and show them to the door.

Rating: 4/10
Found at: GNC ($2.39)
Quick Nutrition: 180 cal – 5g fat – 3g sat fat – 220mg sodium – 25g carb – 14g fiber – 1g sugar – 21g protein

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REVIEW: Ample Hills’ Big Ample Circus

Big Apple Circus began in New York in 1977 as an intimate European style one ring alternative to the then-popular and glitzy American three ring variety. While my personal experience with going to the circus has been limited to the mediocre Barnum & Bailey and incredible Cirque du Soleil, I am extremely happy that Big Apple is celebrating 40 years of showmanship. Anything that leads to a new limited collaboration with Ample Hills is one worthy of applause, and I have been anxiously clapping by myself in California waiting for this frozen phenom to arrive. Big Ample Circus combines sweet cream ice cream with popcorn toffee and red sugar-toasted peanuts.

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Apparently being taken out to the ball game is a lot like taking a trip to the circus. This is straight up Cracker Jacks ice cream and I’m root-root-rooting for Ample Hills because they absolutely destroyed it. The major difference here is that every box of Cracker Jacks I’ve had since surpassing the age of 9 has tasted cheap and shitty, and the quality on display in this pint is the polar opposite.

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The sweet cream base is absolute perfection. Plain without being boring. Sweet without being cloying. Rich without being too heavy. Everything that I want from a sweet cream is on display in full decadence here. The driving flavor is pure milky high quality dairy that serves as a wonderful canvas to the epic amount of mix-ins AH crammed into the pint. There’s a dense texture from the more heavy-handed custard style use of egg yolks, and the lavish custardy is dialed in immaculately.

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The popcorn toffee weaves its way through the pint in giant chunks and is where my Cracker Jacks nostalgia switch really got activated. The toffee is essentially pieces of caramel corn stuck together in buttery bricks with a deep roasted burnt sugar flavor that is roasty, toasty, and comforting. The pieces are crunchy but not in a tooth-shattering way, and crumble with a beautiful silky butteriness that gives way to chewy popcorn. There’s a lovely hint of saltiness that pokes its way through the sweetness and a perfect top rope balancing act is in full effect.

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There are so many wild looking red sugar swirls bleeding into the base from the toasted candy coated peanuts that I keep expecting to taste cherry, but the peanut blood is relatively flavorless. Even though so much of the color has swirled its way into the sweet cream, many of the peanuts still have their candy coating intact, and crunch with a satisfying sugary but roasted pop that is downright deadly. Candied nuts work incredibly well as a mix-in, bringing more fat and sugar to the already deviously delicious mixture of butter and cream. Anytime they make an appearance is a good move in my book, and this one reads like a masterpiece.

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Big Ample Circus is a flavor that achieves on every level. It takes me back to a simpler time, eating Cracker Jacks and watching elephants do funny tricks in top hats, but also presents an elevated and high quality ice cream that stands strong on its own – no gimmick required. Three simple elements all executed with finesse is the ultimate recipe for success, and this is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

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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: 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: 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)

REVIEW: JC’s Scoops Taffy Apple

The pumpkin patch will always be one of my favorite nostalgia-laden memories of autumn childhood. The smell of hay, the massive piles and sometimes entire acres of pumpkins, low brow haunted houses, scarecrows, and the crowning jewel of them all – caramel apples. There was one pumpkin patch in particular in Nebraska that was stunningly huge, and had a little goodie shop brimming with varieties of candy dunked and crunchy rolled apples that seemed only outdone by the Main Street shops in Disneyland. While it would be easy enough to melt some caramel and coat apples any time of year, they’re the most delicious and prominent during the harvest season, and the classic combination of tart apple and sweet candy is only second to pumpkin for being the most iconic flavor pairing this time of year.

Pie Pop Pioneers JC’s Scoops have ventured into the pint game with an all new line of premium ice creams, simply dubbed “Scoops”, and one of the launch flavors screams pumpkin patch perfection. Taffy Apple, which is apparently another name for a caramel or candy apple that I had never heard of, combines tart and sweet green apple ice cream with swirls of salted caramel and candy coated peanuts.

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The base game in this pint is on point. Any ice cream claiming to be premium has to deliver with some high fat ultra creamy richness and those elements are on full display with the texture of the green apple ice cream. There’s a bit of tart green apple aroma coming from the pint as well, but only a little bit of apple flavor in the actual bite. I was extremely excited to have an apple based ice cream, since apple is usually added as a mix-in to vanilla or cinnamon bases, and as good as the texture is, I really want more from the overall taste. The initial flavor carries a hint of sweet apple acidity but it quickly fades into more of a slightly tart sweet cream, and the apple gets a bit lost in the sea of fatty dairy. It’s a shame there are no actual apples or apple juice listed in the ingredients, as the ominous “natural flavors” just isn’t doing the glorious fruit its justice.

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I absolutely love nuts in ice cream, especially candied or caramelized, and the execution of the peanuts in this pint is fantastic. Almost all of the candy coating has come off and left little red indentations in the base, leaving mostly naked peanuts that have a wonderful roasted flavor and big satisfying crunch. There’s a hint of sweetness to them but the deep roasted notes prevail overall, and I’m happy with how they function in the scheme of the overall balance of flavors.

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The salted caramel swirl is great, but unfortunately a bit lacking in its density. It’s thick and salty which provides wonderful contrast to the base, but I only got little strands of it throughout and never a fully satisfying punch of gooey sweetness like I would get from biting the outside of a candy apple. What is there is delicious, I just wish I had more, because the bites with ice cream, nuts, and caramel were very limited.

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While this flavor is lacking in the fully tart elements the description promised and needs a bit more swirl to take it over the edge, I still really appreciate JC trying something different that I can legitimately say I’ve never had before. Even though this isn’t a fall seasonal flavor, it’s lined up perfectly with the brands’ launch, and is solid enough that I’m intrigued to try more of their unique flavors.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Sprouts ($4.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (105g) – 270 cal – 15g fat – 8g sat fat – 125mg sodium – 32g carb – 25g sugar – 4g protein

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