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: Dreyers Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Latte Ice Cream

Call me basic, call me a white girl, call me predicable, call me whatever – I love pumpkin spice. Not just pumpkin spice, but all things with that lovely spicy-sweet balance that make the autumn birds sing. As big of a fan of the profile I am, I’m not the biggest enthusiast of the crowning jewel of Basic B University – the pumpkin spice latte. While I definitely enjoy having one per year on a crisp fall day over an engaging game of chess, once I have that one I’m good to go, and go back to being a straight-to-the-face coffee purist.

The pumpkin spice backlash can be traced back to the explosion of the PSL in the early 2000’s, with a popularity that exceeded expectations and shook creators of seasonal products to their very core. After a huge wave of companies copying Starbucks’ success, the flavors crept their way into a wash of products that made little to no sense, and thus, the August through October consumer pumpkin onslaught was born. Apparently ten or so years late to the party, Dreyers rolled out a new cafe-inspired quart for 2017 with Pumpkin Spice Latte, which combines pumpkin spice and coffee flavored light ice creams.

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The flavor of the pumpkin ice cream is actually pretty good. It’s mellow and sweet, driven by authentic pumpkin and sparkly ginger notes with dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg – all of which are listed in the actual ingredients. There are smooth vanilla undertones to the profile that channel the creamy milkiness of a latte, but unfortunately the other part of the latte, the espresso, is strongly represented as well, and doesn’t quite work for me.

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The coffee ice cream has a genuine coffee presence that is impressive but teeters too close to bitter for my taste in a sweet treat, throwing off the lovely balance made by the pumpkin. The darker coffee ice cream is much more prominent in the container and as soon as it comes in contact with the pumpkin either washes it out entirely or creates an unpleasant spicy-bitter combination that is simply not that enjoyable. It needs some kind of caramel swirl or other creamy-sweet component to marry the two flavors together and work more seamlessly, but as it is presented it feels more like the two bases are fighting each other with no cohesion.

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Texturally this ice cream is the par the course for lower quality low fat varieties, with that odd gummy sensation that requires a bit more chewing than what I want from a scoop with no mix-ins. It’s not the most offensively gummy ice cream I’ve had, but it’s definitely miles away from super premium that’s more airy than it is dense, and at under 3 grams of fat per serving you can only hope for so much. Even though it isn’t listed as such, the macros and overall vibe of the product are much more in line with the Slow Churned variety than Dreyers Grand. 

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While the texture isn’t sexy smooth and the zero mix-ins makes it a little boring, the real issue with this flavor is in the execution of balancing all the complex flavors of a pumpkin spice latte. When the legions of teens flock to Starbucks for their PSL’s they aren’t looking for a drink that actually tastes like coffee, and this frozen iteration on the warm drink brings coffee too much into the foreground. Sweetness, creaminess, and a hint of spiciness should all be driving the profile of the coveted scarf-laden beverage, and instead the strong-armed character of bitter roasted beans comes out on top, and makes this seasonal release from Dreyers a bit of a miss.

Rating: 5.5/10
Found at: Target ($3.99)

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REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes

Within any collective community or “scene” there are always different levels of dedication. There are casual sports fans who might don a team’s hat when they’re doing well, and then the guy who shows up shirtless to every game painted in the team’s colors. There are listeners of metal music that may fancy themselves a nice studded bracelet, and then there are those true-to-the-core metalhead badasses who don’t own a single piece of non-black clothing. There are part-timers who punch in 23 hours at their workplace, and then those who crawl their way in on Sunday’s and never push less than 60. There are the Taco Bell’s who are dedicated to the insanity and the McDonald’s who never stray too far from the path. You get the picture.

In the junk food world the levels of dedication can be measured by limited time offerings, and while Oreo reigns supreme in coming out with kooky cookies (Swedish Fish, Cotton Candy), Keebler have yet to really take any risks since delving into the LTO-iverse last year…until now. While they’ve played it generally close to the vest with Pumpkin Spice, Lemon, and Cinnamon, this summer the Elves took their first step towards true dedication, trying a flavor that is no easy task and could ultimately lead to Fudge Stripe failure – Strawberry Cheesecake.

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Ripping open the soft pink and off-white packaging reveals a distinctly tangy and cheesecake-y aroma. It’s mellow but sharp, and surprisingly less strawberry-forward than what I expected. These cookies were shipped to me straight from the Elfin land of Keebler’s Hollow Tree, and quite a few of them took a crumble tumble in travel, but that shouldn’t effect the taste at all. The intact cookies share in the same rosy pink as the package with the signature white “fudge” stripes on the top.

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Wow – these cookies are awesome. Much like the initial smell, the flavor that I get smacked with immediately is cheesecake, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting these to taste like cheesecake at all. I was anticipating a wallop of too-sweet artificial strawberry flavor with a hint of nondescript creaminess, more akin to a strawberries and cream, but these are tangy and cheesy with a great balance of sweetness. I’m not a big fan of fake strawberry, and I don’t get much of that flavor here at all, it may even be closer to cherry, as it just has a slightly tart fruity essence beneath the layer of cheesecake.

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The texture, like all Fudge Stripes, is a soft-yet-crumbly shortbread that brings a nice hit of butteriness beneath the cheesy berry flavors. Much like the Lemon Stripes, the flavors here are all around a bit muted, but with such notoriously bold tart and tangy potential I really appreciate the subtly they come across with. The ratios are spot on with the berry taking the backseat, because no one ever eats a slice of cheesecake drowning in sauce, it acts as the acidic highlight to the decadent cake, and that’s exactly what these cookies do.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Sent to me from Keebler but can be found in stores and online (approx. $3)

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REVIEW: Butterfinger Limited Edition Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups

The candy world has a new obsession, and it’s one I can get behind – spice. Generally reserved for savory items, the addition of spiciness to usually sweet leaning products has advanced from small gourmet stores to mainstream brands like Jolly Rancher, Nerds, and now, Butterfinger. Mixing fruity flavors with spice is very common in countries like Mexico, where sweet and spicy is the preferred profile over sweet and sour, and with that creeping its way into American culture, so is mixing spice with even less conventional flavors – like peanut butter. Butterfinger’s limited edition Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups take the established combination of PB and chocolate and crank it up a notch with some heat.

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Biting into the cup I get the great creamy texture with a little bit of crunch that I expect from Butterfinger Cups and immediately there’s a hint of smoky flavor creeping after the chocolate sweetness. It doesn’t take long for the smokiness to transform into a little spicy dance that tickles my tongue like perfectly executed cayenne pepper. What I mean by perfectly executed is cayenne is one of those ingredients that adds a fantastic kick without too much flavor, but when you go too heavy handed with it whatever you’re cooking can get out of control really fast, and this has a spot on amount of spice. The heat creeps up after the creaminess of the peanut butter has died down and last about 10-15 seconds before fading away without any serious lingering effect.

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The addition of the heat to the mix reduces the overall sweetness of the cups and puts more emphasis on the rich creaminess of the peanut butter. While the flavor is still far from savory, it adds another layer of complexity to the sweet, salty, and fatty mix that PB cups always bring to the table.

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While these cups are very well executed, I’m glad that they’re a limited edition because they come off as more of a novelty treat than something I would want to seek out and buy again. As is the case with most Reese’s products, it’s hard to improve on the original, and as a fan of regular Butterfinger PB cups I don’t think the addition of spice makes the cup any better. In fact, because it takes away a little bit of the sweetness from the chocolate, it might actually be worse, but it’s still a fun candy that I would recommend to anyone who likes a little kick with their fix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: 7-11 ($1.99)

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REVIEW: Little G X MdoughW White Chocolate Macadamia Nut

One of my all time favorite creamy sweet treats growing up was a frozen yogurt from TCBY called White Chocolate Mousse.  It was succulent and smooth in a way that vanilla could never be, and sadly, I haven’t had that perfectly swirled soft serve in years, but have always looked for a worthy replacement.  Additionally, one of my favorite cookies has always been white chocolate macadamia nut, and my love for the cookie and ice cream have very rarely come together.  Once again, Little G has come to my rescue.  Combining forces with MdoughW, the two have released a pint that combines white chocolate ice cream with roasted macadamia nuts, and MdoughW’s sugar cookie doughies.

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The white chocolate base is fantastic.  Insanely smooth and creamy, it is decently sweet with a distinct white chocolate finish that’s really hard to describe.  There are no vanilla notes, especially compared to Little G’s vanilla bean, and it is less sweet than a typical sweet cream, with less of a pronounced dairy flavor.  White chocolate is such a difficult taste to pinpoint, but it can generally be distinguished and attributed to the use of cocoa butter, which gives an added layer of richness that just simply works in ice cream and makes it even creamier than your typical super premium base.

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The MdoughW sugar cookie doughies are delicious and taste almost exactly like a more authentic less grainy version of when I eat Pillsbury’s sugar cookie dough before baking them (shhh don’t tell anyone).  They are soft and buttery with a lovely saltiness and don’t really taste like they’ve been cooked at all – and I love it.  The salty flavor really shines through against the perfectly sweetened and creamy base and if this were a sugar cookie dough ice cream this is all that I would need to be immensely satisfied.

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Where this pint suffers is in the execution of the buttery and always unique tasting macadamia nuts.  While they’ve been roasted, they haven’t been salted or seasoned in any way and fall kind of flat, even when submerged in the sugary abyss of white chocolate.  They are also too big.  I appreciate the idea that they should be large enough to give a bold flavor, and they do add a legit crunch, but including whole nuts makes them incredibly hard and almost astringent, at times sucking the life out of my spoon.  Had the macadamia nuts been smaller and/or candied, or even just dusted with some decent salt they could have really helped elevate the flavor to its true cookie ice cream potential.

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I love the base and the sugar cookies in this one a LOT, but the treatment of the nuts and the amount of them really pull away from how awesome this pint could have been.  I would love to see Grace use the white chocolate again in a flavor that doesn’t get weighed down by a hard, mouth-drying component like the macadamia’s, or maybe even just try this one again using half the amount of nuts and throwing in a couple white chips for good measure, because through and through I still really enjoyed eating this.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: http://www.goldbely.com (use code seanpancake0 for $25 off of your first order!)

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REVIEW: Little G’s Going to the Circus

Growing up with my parents I always loved taking a trip to the grocery store.  Drifting off from my mom at Safeway to look at the toy aisle and peruse all the latest snacks that I probably couldn’t convince her to buy was always a thrill, but on the best days I got to sneak away and go next door to Rite Aid.  No, I wasn’t looking to fill a a prescription or look at their bigger, better toy aisle, but rather, peer into the icy glass case of the Thrifty ice cream counter.  Massive, cheap, oddly shaped scoops from big, sometimes freezer-burnt tubs of ice cream was the best pre-dinner treat, and among my favorite flavors was Circus Animal Cookie.  That childhood classic flavor combined pink and white cookie batter ice cream and chunks of real Mother’s Circus Animal cookies.  It wasn’t the highest quality ice cream, but it was good, and as my childhood nostalgia savior, Little G released the limited time Going To The Circus, which mixes animal cracker ice cream with frosted animal cracker pieces, buttercream frosting, and sprinkles.

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This ice cream is an absolute alley oop slam dunk and-one. The colors are assertive and pop with a childlike aura than translates perfectly to the flavor. The base of the ice cream actually has crumbled up Circus Animal cookies in it, and as with many Little G flavors, the mix in density is crazy.  The base is a bit hard to taste on its own, but the frosted cracker flavor is there and it is big. The combination of the animal cracker base, buttercream, and abundant sprinkles makes this flavor taste not only like Circus Animals, but like the most fun, joyous ice cream birthday cake I’ve ever consumed.

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Speaking of cake, the frosted animal cracker pieces have softened in the ice cream and lost their usual crunch, making them feel a bit more like sponge cake than cookies. This isn’t a bad thing, as they still have a good chew and the chunks are big enough that when paired up with the sprinkles there’s still lots of crunch factor compared to a normal ice cream. Cookie chunks and sprinkles and frosting all swimming in a pool of sweet sweet cream is on another level of childhood indulgence.

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Simply put, eating this ice cream is fun. It’s intense and it’s sweet but completely channels the feeling and after school nostalgia of Circus Animal cookies to a tee.  When I rate an ice cream I think about a number of factors, but ultimately it comes down to did I enjoy eating it and does it deliver on what it set out to do.  The answer to both of those questions with this pint is a resounding yes, and I can’t think of a single thing I would change to make it a sturdier mission accomplished.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: http://www.goldbely.com (use code seanpancake0 to get $25 off your first order!)

REVIEW: Dreyers Cake and Cookie Fantasy Frozen Yogurt

Going and getting a giant cup of build your own frozen yogurt topped with candy, fruit, cereal, cheesecake, and whatever else I could fit into my bowl used to be one of my favorite weekend activities before I became a full blown ice cream addict.  While I still venture to the froyo shop from time to time, one thing I have never done is buy a container of frozen yogurt from the grocery store – until now.  As I was pursuing the frozen aisle, which lights itself up as I gradually strut by its fine offerings, I was caught off guard by a glowing purple and pink container right near the Dreyers Slow Churned section.  In tandem with the Dreyers’ cookie dough line, the company also launched three new frozen yogurts, including this eye grabbing beauty.  Cake and Cookie Fantasy combines red velvet cake and sugar cookie frozen yogurt swirled together with decadent cookie dough pieces and chocolate cookie crumbles.

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This flavor is a lot of fun.  There’s a nice yogurt tang to the base of the ice cream, er, yogurt, which gives it a genuine and light frozen yogurt flavor that is different for a a tub full of cookies and cookie dough, but overall pretty pleasant.  The red velvet flavor is noticeable immediately with the subtle light cocoa working well with the yogurt tang to emulate the classic cake garnished with cream cheese frosting.  The white colored sugar cookie yogurt’s flavor is hard to isolate among all of the swirls, but it tastes less tangy and has an overall smoother consistency than the red velvet that could be channeling the cookie’s iconic butteriness; but it definitely registers more vanilla than an actual baked good.

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The mix ins are pretty solid too, the chocolate wafer cookies bring that classic cookies n cream slightly bitter cocoa note and the cookie dough adds nice pops of saltiness to go along with the typical gritty chew you know and love in dough.  Although the description doesn’t specify, I would think the dough is sugar cookie dough and the chocolate-less buttery flavor definitely gets the job done.  The pieces of both are pretty small, but there’s a good amount of them, and between the two mix ins and two flavors of yogurt each bite brings something slightly different to the ever-evolving scoop experience.  It definitely doesn’t eat as decadently as a scoop of premium cookie dough ice cream but this flavor is well executed and deserving of your dollars and freezer space if you get down with the cookies and the dough.

Rating: 8/10

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