REVIEW: Tastykake Gingerbread Mini Donuts

There’s nothing quite like a powdered mini donut.  Packaged in a roll of six from a dark vending machine or lonely gas station, the tube of sugary delight never fails to deliver a messy Scarface-like experience of pure sweetness.  The only problem with these types of donuts is that despite their fun fluffy texture they’re relatively one dimensional when it comes to flavor – straight sugar.  Just in time for the holidays Tastykake have solved this issue with Gingerbread Mini Donuts.

image1

Unlike their lighter-colored year round sibling, the gingerbread version of Tastykake’s donuts deliver a wallop of spicy layers to back up their already perfect bouncy texture.  Rather than being covered in a dusting of powdered sugar, these donuts are taken up a notch with a robust shaking of ginger and cinnamon that erupts from the bag and translates just as convincingly to the tongue.  You don’t have to search for any traces of gingerbread as you can see the specks of brown all over the donut and the flavors completely smack you in the face to finish with spice-dominance that makes me think they used cloves in the mix as well.  The ginger here isn’t the raw ginger that tingles in your nose, but more of a ground ginger blended with cinnamon that meshes perfectly with the powdered sugar to create the ideal seasonal spice.

image2

Additionally, the clever snack-ologists at Tastykake have put some kind of spice into the donut dough as well, as you can see little brown dots mixed in with a darker-than-usual cake that hints more towards tan than yellow.

image3
The two-toned punch of spiced cake and spiced powder makes these incredibly successful and a worthy shakeup from the usual donette.  Whether it be Tastykake or Hostess or Little Debbie I’ve never found any flavors of mini donuts to be truly worth it aside from the classic powdered or chocolate, but these ones give both of those a run for their money.  More complex than any that have come before them but equally satisfying in their junky splendor, these Gingerbread ‘nuts are a slam dunk worthy of your Christmas calories.

Rating: 8/10

Advertisements

REVIEW: Jack Nicklaus Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Every once in awhile I find myself face to face with a great deal on a foreign ice cream that is too tempting to pass up. I don’t mean when Talenti or another higher priced brand goes on sale, but when some weird unknown creamery shows up looking official and carrying a decent price tag. This particular mystery creamery is fronted by none other than golfing great Jack Nicklaus, and apparently he’s found himself a hobby in retirement. Among a couple more adventurous flavors was Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, a classic I was willing to give a shot.

image1

Opening the cold green carton started off pretty good, with the use of a brown sugar ice cream base instead of your typical vanilla or some kind of unflavored white mystery flavor. The brown sugar not only helps to accentuate the cookie dough vibes but leaves the cream with an extra rich buttery texture that is perfectly addicting. The off white/brown color of the ice cream also immediately reminds the eye of dough, but unfortunately that’s where the doughiness ends for this pint.

image3

The mix-ins Jack put into his attempt at a classic flavor are so bare that they’re almost pointless and don’t add much to the taste or texture. To be fair the description does say “chocolate chip cookie dough pieces” but the pieces here are more like crumbs and are so small you can’t even tell if they’re good. What should be chocolate chips are more the size of cocoa nibs, or roughly half of your average chip.

Even with their small size there are at least enough chips to get a feel for their presence, which can not be said for the actual dough itself. Going through the pint I got less than ten pieces of cookie dough, and each piece was probably the size of a dime. When you get a bite it does have that buttery sugar squish that you want but it fades so quickly you wonder if it even happened.

image4

All scooped up – still barely any dough

Had this simply been a brown sugar or French vanilla flavor it would have been a success, but unfortunately it misses the mark on delivering what it advertised. One of the things that appealed to me about trying this ice cream was its significantly lower calorie count than many of its competitors. Clocking in at 160 per half cup, compared to Ben and Jerry’s at 280, Mr. Nicklaus is really proving that you get, and taste, what you pay for.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Mint Brussels

Although Milano’s get all the love as the Pepperidge Farm poster child, I am of the opinion that the the lesser loved Brussels are the true GOAT of their cookie lineup.  Sure, the Milano is classic and definitely delicious with its fluffy yet crumbly exterior, but nothing can top the crunchy caramelized sugar cookies nuzzling a snappy layer of dark chocolate that is the Brussel.  Fortunately for Brussel-lovers like myself, this year they got a holiday makeover with the limited edition Mint Brussels.

image1
In good taste Pepperidge Farm have decided not to mess too much with a winning combo and have simply added a layer of mint on top of the already present dark chocolate.  The mint has a nearly identical firm but smooth texture as the dark layer, and comes across like a mint flavored white chocolate, which helps to maintain the already successful and delightful crunch of the original cookie.  Biting in you get that wonderful sugar crunch a la the top of a creme brûlée that is sweet but not cloying at all.  Pairing perfectly with a cup of coffee or black tea, these cookies live up the the reputation Pepperidge Farm have for delivering the most sophisticated and “adult” tasting treats you can find in the grocery store.

image3

Chocolate and mint are a classic combo that works extremely well but is surprisingly easy to mess up.  Oftentimes the mint can be too strong and overpower and other flavors battling for your tastebuds, but these Brussels have managed to hit the balance almost perfectly, with just a touch to be desired.  If I can fault these cookies in any way I would want just a hint more mint from them.  It feels like splitting hairs because one of my biggest pet peeves is a mint cookie or dessert that leaves my mouth with a toothpaste tingle, but the Pepperidge Farm folks could have put a touch more mint into the mix and they would have really sung flawlessly.

image4

Apparently Mint Brussels used to exist with some form of regularity and were discontinued around 2009, but for me these are brand new and I hope they won’t be disappearing as a limited release anytime soon.  Fingers crossed these cookies sell well and 2017 will bring us new limited flavors like the Milano’s get, who have everything from Lemon to Dulce De Leche available year round.

Rating: 8.5/10

REVIEW: Baskin Robbin’s Peppermint Bark in the Dark

Although still technically autumn, the flavor gods have officially decided it’s time to be immersed in a wintery mintery wonderland as crisp and cool as the air outside.  For the last week or so it feels like the air may as well be peppermint flavored as that has been the dominant taste every time I’ve opened my mouth.  Baskin Robbins have decided to fittingly join the party with their December flavor of the month Peppermint Bark in the Dark.

image11

Originally released in December of 2013, the flavor is as straight forward as it sounds – peppermint bark in chocolate ice cream.  The pairing of chocolate and mint is one of the most classic holiday flavors around, so classic that unlike eggnog or pecan pie it can be found year round in everything from York Peppermint Patties to BR’s own Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.  It’s this common-place profile that makes this flavor a little bit of a letdown as the headliner of a year that brought both a new spin on a Halloween flavor (Trick Oreo Treat Dark) and cookies and cream mashed up with Frosted Flakes (Oreo Milk ’N Cereal).

The ice cream is good – a rich chocolate base that carries the essence of peppermint in every bite, with the occasional bursts of very strong peppermint and crunch from the bark – it’s just not anything particularly new or exciting.  The pieces of bark hold their own and deliver cool bursts that fill your mouth with Christmas cheer, floating along in a chocolate river with glassy-smooth texture.  The scoop that I got did not have nearly as many, or as big, chunks of peppermint bark in it as the promotional picture which is a bit of a rare letdown for Baskin Robbins.  The picture on their site and ingredients also imply some kind of ribbon which I didn’t have any of.  Again, the ice cream is solid and of high quality, just not as good as the previous two years’ December Flavors of the Month – York Peppermint Pattie and Oreo Cool Mint Chocolate – both of which had more elements to keep them exciting.

image2

Searching for them chunks and swirl – not so much

What would make this a more successful flavor?  One more component – a ribbon or swirl or additional mix-in (maybe it was supposed to be there, Baskin HR were of no help trying to figure this out), and maybe something less predictable.  Toss a marshmallow swirl in to highlight the white chocolate and call it “Santa’s Rocky Sleigh” or some spiced cookies and caramel and call it “Peppermint Stocking Stuffer” – something along those lines.  A perfectly suitable flavor for the holiday’s, just a tad bit boring and not anything you should rush to the scoop shop to try ahead of any other chocolate mint mash ups from other brands in grocery or otherwise.

Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: “Sweet Salty” Birthday Cake Popcorn

I love popcorn. I also love cake (see earlier Nuts ‘N More post). When I saw this plainly labeled small red bag of popcorn that boldly read BIRTHDAY CAKE at Target I immediately took a step back and had a greater appreciation for food science. Yes, a lot of folks will say the birthday cake flavor trend is old news but I still get down with it and I am hooked on the crunch of the corn, so I grabbed a bag (or three) and went in with realistic expectations.

image1

Immediately the bag hits you with a soft vanilla aroma that floats with the springiness of spongecake. It isn’t extremely sharp and harsh like a vanilla extract nor is it too artificial or overly sweet. Although not as strong, the aroma isn’t too far off from marshmallows, but closer to the kind you would find in Lucky Charms than a big bag of Jet-Puffed. The popcorn looks mainly plain and white with occasional small specks of color that are probably supposed to give a nod to sprinkles.

Popcorn is naturally fluffy so the texture play here actually works really well. Initially the difference between popcorn and cake seems gigantic, but when you have them together the fluffiness of the kernels and the sweetness of the seasoning does actually register “cake” with my tastebuds. The cereal-esque marshmallow smell definitely comes to life in the flavor with a dominant sweet vanilla powderiness that is pleasant for repeated crunching.

image2

I’m sure something like this has been done before, but most likely in a higher sugar coated kind of popcorn, more like a caramel corn or “drizzle corn”. Those things are good but I like my popcorn as more of an abundance snack than rich hyper intense dessert. Although not the strongest birthday cake flavor, the subtle sweet powdered execution on Target’s “Sweet Salty” brand birthday cake popcorn is a win for me; something that works well on its own or mixed with a salty crunch buddy like Skinny Pop, Smartfood, or Boom Chicka Pop – my three faves.

Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: Nuts ‘N More Birthday Cake High Protein Peanut Spread

One of the most triumphant moments in anyone’s proper birthday celebrations is the inevitable leftover birthday cake and the ensuing morning of really owning that birth crown and having cake for breakfast.  Thanks to the folks at Nuts ’N More, who are celebrating their fifth birthday, we have one more excuse to have cake for breakfast before our big day with the limited release of their Birthday Cake high protein and peanut spread.

image1

Visually it’s festive as hell, with sprinkles dotting every surface, and the cake flavor is pretty strong.  If I had to officially assign it a cake flavor it would probably be yellow cake, with its eggy density being more dominant than a vanilla or “white” kind of cake.  In fact, there really is no prominent vanilla flavor, which is impressive, as oftentimes companies will label something as cake when its taste is simply vanilla with some decorative flair.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the flavor of “cake” is – sugar, butter, eggs, flour – but we all know it and love it and the essence is definitely triggering that part of the birthday brain.

image2
Of the eight ingredients sugar is the third and sprinkles are the sixth, so the Nuts ’N More folks were being real when they said it was time to celebrate.  This isn’t a low sugar affair like many other protein nut butters out there, which helped them be successful in not having to mask an abundant use of artificial sweeteners or skimp on the ‘sprinks.  The higher amount of sugar also helps keep the butter more solid, with a lot less oil separation than you usually find in Nuts ’N More products.  It required very little mixing when first opened and the initial texture is pretty much the texture the spread stays.

Speaking of texture, this butter is definitely on the grainier side, with a sugar crystal crunch in every bite.  The crunchiness goes beyond the sprinkles and feels like an un-cooked cake batter with its granulated sugar waiting to be baked into fluffy glory.  I can’t decide whether or not I like this textural play and whether or not it was intentional.  It doesn’t bother me but I also kind of wish it had the velvety smooth texture of one of D’s Natural’s peanut-based Fluffbutters.

The crunchy texture issues get greatly remedied when used as a spread on a warm piece of bread and not eaten straight out of the jar like a savage (my preferred method).  Putting the spread on a toasted english muffin and letting the cake melt into the yeasty crevices smoothed out the texture and gave it more velvety satisfaction – I can imagine this would be insanely good on a stack of warm pancakes or waffles.

image3

Overall this is a solid-tasting protein spread that would be a welcome addition to any breakfast, snack, or dessert, and is a fun way to switch it up from regular or flavored peanut butters.  For the extra sugar I’m not sure it’s different enough from their Salted Caramel or Toffee Crunch flavors to warrant ordering online for the average consumer but I will certainly be scraping my container clean and savoring every spoonful before my actual birthday in January when I will eat as much real cake as humanely possible.

Rating: 8/10

BAR BATTLE: Grenade Carb Killa Chocolate Cream vs. Chocolate Crunch

After the insanely impressive success of the White Chocolate Cookie bar and the relative letdown of Caramel Chaos, it seemed only fitting to pit Grenade’s two U.S. available chocolate flavored bars – cream and crunch – in a completely irrelevant and awesome bar battle to the death.  In reality this is just two reviews crammed into one, but all that sounds pretty fun doesn’t it?

First up – Chocolate Cream.

image1

This bar has a chocolate cream center with a layer of caramel coated in milk chocolate, all revolving around a whey protein base.  Unfortunately, this bar was neither creamy or particularly chocolatey and resulted in immediate disappointment.

image2

The inside looked gorgeous, with a fluffy protein core topped by thin whispy caramel and was very similar to the Caramel Chaos without the elements that made that bar redeemable – the caramel flavor and crisp crunch.  The promised flavor fell completely flat and left me searching for more bite after bite.

image3

This bar is fine, as in passable, but it isn’t adding anything new to the protein bar game, which a truly creamy chocolate bar would.  When I hear chocolate cream I think of truffles or the center of a Cadbury egg, or at the very least a rich deep cocoa flavor, and none of those were present in this bar.  What’s good about this bar is the same thing that makes white cookie so great without any notable strong flavors or inventiveness.  Ultimately it’s perfectly edible and has solid macros but isn’t replacing any of the other established chocolate protein bars (Combat Crunch, Quest) that have been doing it for years.

Rating: 6/10

And the challenger – Chocolate Crunch.

image1

This bar comes in a golden wrapper – does that mean it’s actually the reigning champ and not the challenger?  Is this foreshadowing?  Yes.  This bar is solid.

The name “Chocolate Crunch” is a bit misleading because a prominent flavor in this bar is peanuts.  Listed in the description, peanuts, in both their taste and texture, play a bigger role in making this bar successful than the chocolate, which is present but greatly amplified by the nuts.  The half real, half artificial (you know the taste) flavor of peanuts is the first and last thing you taste, rounded out very nicely by the coating of chocolate.
image2
Speaking of successful, the caramel here is very different than the other three bars – it’s thick and solid with a chewy texture that is new and awesome.

image3

This bar, much like its white chocolate all star, is channeling a liquor store classic – SNICKERS.  The peanuty protein base becomes distinctly like the texture of nougat and the nuts and caramel work together to complete the package.  This isn’t as dead-on of a copy as the white cookie but it took me by pleasant surprise that this bar tasted nothing like I expected.  I didn’t anticipate the bar to taste bad I just had no idea it would take me back to the candy aisle and eager to reach for another.

Rating: 8/10

Chocolate Crunch absolutely destroys Chocolate Cream and will earn its slot in any Snickers-loving protein bar munchers’ rotation with ease.  A great nutritional profile with flavor to back it up, the gold wrapper is a fitting home for a bar that channels one of the greatest candies of all time.

image4

OOEY GOOEY CHAMPION!