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.

FullSizeRender

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.

FullSizeRender_1

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.

FullSizeRender(2)

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)

Advertisements

REVIEW: Halo Top’s Pumpkin Pie

A trend in the food world begins to transcend trendiness and become solidified when it grows beyond a core set of styles, flavors, or offerings, and transitions into limited time seasonal versions of their product. Unleashing smaller scale season-based varieties displays confidence in a brand and a trust that consumers will flock to something that may not have as much mass appeal as a standard. Welcome to the upper-echelon of the grocery ice cream game, Halo Top. While many of the company’s most recent flavors have yet to make it to the Bay Area, Halo’s first limited time flavor popped up at Target just to keep my protein hungry basic tastebuds entertained, with Pumpkin Pie.

image1

As is the case with all high protein light ice cream’s, this stuff freezes hard and needs a good amount of time to temper on the counter, but this one tempered faster than almost every other Halo flavor I’ve had (nearly all of them). Once the ice cream gets appropriately soft it is very impressive how smooth, creamy, and “real” ice cream-like it is. In fact, the texture is so on point that I would have never guessed it to be a light ice cream, as the essence is much truer to the real deal than many gummy slow churned products.

image2

The flavor is equally impressive, with a very yammy pumpkin-forward profile that tastes closer to actual pumpkin pie filling than most pumpkin ice cream’s on the market. The sweetness is also perfectly on point. It’s sharp and sugary but not so much that it washes away the authentic pumpkin flavor, and is accented nicely by soft hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. As a whole the taste is more of a vegetal vanilla than it is spicy, but there’s enough spice there to keep it interesting and elevate the natural notes of the squash.

image3

Mix-in-wise this is also one of Halo’s more legit releases, with an impressively ample amount of pie crust throughout the entire pint. The pieces are small but aplenty, with a soft, bready, slightly buttery flavor that 100% register pie crust. The most intriguing part of Halo’s execution here is that nearly every bite tastes like a good forkful of pumpkin pie being equally represented by pumpkin, mellow spice, crust, and creamy vanilla undertones to mimic the role of whipped cream.

image4

This flavor is not only good for Halo Top or light protein ice creams, but for all pumpkin pie ice creams in general. No, it doesn’t have the rich fatty depth of Graeter’s or Ben & Jerrys, or the big spicy pop of Talenti, but it has an incredibly accurate and delicious pumpkin flavor that nails the nostalgic taste of diggin’ in on Thanksgiving day, and I enjoyed every bite.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Target ($5.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (70g) – 90 cal – 3g fat – 1g sat fat – 40mg cholesterol – 130mg sodium – 3g fiber – 7g sugar – 5g sugar alcohol – 5g protein

image5

REVIEW: Graeter’s Limited Edition Pumpkin

While it’s relatively commonplace to find fun seasonal flavors from all the big players in the grocery ice cream game like Breyer’s, Dreyer’s, Haagen Dazs, and Ben & Jerry’s, it’s a much more rare feat to come across a higher end brand sneaking a seasonal release into the frozen aisle. Oftentimes a craft-leaning brand will only get the most likely to sell and core flavors at a store, maybe 4 or 5 varieties tops, and all the special ones will need to be ordered online or picked up at a (non-existent on this coast) scoop shop. A fortunate outlier to this equation has popped up, likely due to the mainstream infatuation with everything pumpkin, and at my local Whole Foods I was able to score Graeter’s spin on the trendy flavor, simply dubbed, Limited Edition Pumpkin.

image1

As expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, the texture is incredibly smooth, creamy, and dense. The flavor is sweet, subtly spicy, and mostly notably pumpkin-pronounced. The finishing note is pure squashy goodness and carries one of the most authentic and vegetal pumpkin flavors I’ve ever had in ice cream. There are notes of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, but they definitely take a backseat to the gourd-forward ensemble of flavors in the container.

image2

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Graeter’s, a company that prides itself on presenting classic, mostly refined and uncomplicated flavors executed with pure richness, went a very straight forward route with their pumpkin ice cream. The flavor is simply called “Pumpkin” and not “Pumpkin Pie” or “Pumpkin Spice”, so the spice being more of an undertone is exactly as advertised; but it also limits how good this ice cream can be. Similar to a very well executed vanilla, no matter how good it is it can’t compete with more complex flavors that incorporate multiple textures, mix-ins, and techniques to create a more engaging pint.

image3

I would love to see a company with very high quality base ice cream like Graeter’s incorporate a caramel swirl or a white chocolate spin on their renowned chocolate chips to bring some extra textural contrast and depth to their fantastic pumpkin flavor. I don’t want to call this one “boring” because it’s very well done, but it isn’t the type of pint I need to seek out year after year as it does’t satisfy any urge a solid pumpkin pie filling can do perfectly well – especially at the higher price point.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

image1(1)

REVIEW: Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie

You may or may not know this, but ice cream and gelato are not the same thing. Yes, “gelato” in Italian does mean ice cream, and the end results of both processes are similarly delicious, but there are a few key components that make for big differences. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than American ice cream, and as a result has less air and is a bit denser than your average stateside scoop. Even more importantly, it uses less cream and eggs and more milk, which results in a lower fat content and translates the flavors differently, oftentimes more intensely, than typical high butterfat ice cream. Because there’s less fatty interference to coat the tongue, the flavors, especially fruit based ones, shine like they never can in the American stuff.

It’s no secret that I’m a big ole ice cream junky, but I also really love gelato. I’ve had more gelato in random shops or restaurants than purchased pints, and I was surprised that over the course of the last year I gave -zero- love to the classic Italian dessert on this blog. I decided that was unacceptable, and time for a rescoop of a seasonal staple from the biggest grocery gelato name of them all – Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie.

image1

This frozen take on Thanksgiving’s finest combines a spiced pumpkin gelato with a brown sugar swirl and pieces of pie crust. Immediately upon opening the container there is a massive spicy sweet bouquet of cinnamon and pumpkin, which is impressive because the temperature of frozen desserts often keeps them from smelling anything close to how wonderful they taste.

image2

image3

The texture is exactly as a gelato should be – smooth and creamy with an airy density that has a velvety-ness more akin to a perfectly made smoothie than your average premium ice cream. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin notes are big and bright with perfect authenticity. The most surprising aspect of the profile is how prominent the nutmeg is, with all of its sweet nuances on full display. The pie crust pieces are mostly on the small side but taste terrific. Many of them are soft with a squishy give, and occasionally one will pop up with a crunchy butteriness that reminds me of the slightly charred outer-crust goodness. The brown sugar swirl is more integrated into the base than it is a stand out component on its own, but it definitely brings a pretty intense sugary pop that weaves through the entire pint.

image4

image5

My only issue with this flavor, and it’s one that I run into with gelato from time to time, is it is very sweet. The lower fat content is both a blessing and a curse, in that the spices don’t get held back by the fat and are able to show their full potential, but there’s also no fat to mellow the sugar and add depth to the experience. The aspects of gelato that make this pint strong are the same ones that hold it back from being perfect. It isn’t bad by any means, in fact it’s one of Talenti’s strongest offerings, it just becomes a bit too much for me after a serving, and leaves my mouth feeling a bit like my ears do after listening to a great song on mediocre headphones – all treble and no bass…but damn that’s still a good song.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($4.99)

image6

REVIEW: White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s

Pumpkin pie ain’t so poppable, and this year Mars want to change the way we embrace autumn’s most iconic circular treat. Although there are an unbelievable amount of pumpkin spice labeled products, not too many try to actually conquer the true application of said spice mix via the pie, which is a generally softer, creamier, and squash-y-er experience than pure spice overload. As a counterpart to the shriek-inducing double chocolate whammy of Cookies & Screeem, White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s are here to cool us down for short, relaxed, fall evenings.

image1

The candies present themselves as a lovely autumn array of muted tan, orange, and brown, with the usual bloated circular shape of the flavor-infused limited M&M’s. The typical great crunchy shell begins the bite, followed by a very well balanced and sweater-weather-worthy taste of pumpkin pie.

image2

The flavor is mellow but very genuine and enjoyable. The leading note is sweet, with the bulk of the candy being white chocolate, followed by some cool subtle cinnamon and nutmeg. They’re creamy and lush with the mixture of spices offsetting the typically hyper-sugary profile of white chocolate. Unlike “real” or bitter chocolate, the spices don’t go to war with the silky white cocoa butter, and all the flavors coexist harmoniously. Being the spice-lover that I am, I would have no problem with a little more tingle, but I also don’t eat pumpkin pie anticipating my tongue to burn, so I’m not let down by these at all.

image3

I’m the type of person who loves a good dollop of whipped cream on top of my end-of-Thanksgiving slice, and these M&M’s channel that sensation wonderfully. They taste like a big heaping forkful of mellow creamy pumpkin adorned with an ample amount of whip, and are perfectly snackable as well as true to their desired flavor destiny. Perhaps not the most poppin’ poppable candies you’ll ever have, but definitely one worthy of the crystal candy bowl in the middle of Grandma’s holiday dinner spread.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($3.29)
Quick Nutrition: 1.5 oz – 210 cal – 11g fat – 6g sat fat – 40mg sodium – 29g carb – 28g sugar – 2g protein

image4

REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Life

My life at the moment feels like a constant joyous swirl of pumpkin spice, which makes my repeat purchase of Pumpkin Spice Life all that much more fitting. I ate Life from time to time growing up, but it didn’t have the big sugary appeal of Reese’s Puffs or Cookie Crisp, so I haven’t revisited it much as an adult. Last year when this cereal dropped I made my return to the Life brand, and much like the PS Cheerios, when I saw them this season I felt the need to try them again, and gotta bring my thoughts to the skillet.

image1

This cereal isn’t nearly as spicy as its direct Cheerios competition, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t just as tasty. The little criss-crossed squares don’t jump with cloves and nutmeg, but they do have a sharp cinnamon presence and wonderful creamy, almost buttery essence that makes them really enjoyable to eat. Dry they have lots of crunch and embrace the brighter, sweeter side of cinnamon, even though a serving only clocks in at 6 grams of sugar. When milk is added the creaminess gets kicked up a notch and the cinnamon flavor doesn’t fade – it simply stays a cool, mellow, calming spicy presence that is downright pleasant to eat.

image2

The flavor, while it isn’t very intense, reminds me a bit of pie crust that has just a touch of pumpkin pie filling on it. While I haven’t had Cinnamon Life in quite awhile, I imagine this is very similar, yet the bowl screams autumn, and I don’t recall getting those vibes from the purely cinnamon version. There’s an upper register pop to this cereal that’s unique, almost like a spicy spark going off on my tongue, and it happens with every bite.

image3

I’ll be honest, there isn’t a ton of bold pumpkin flavor in Pumpkin Spice Life, but there’s a perfect balance of toothy, spicy, earthy, and delicious that makes it incredibly palatable and hard to stop eating. It isn’t aggressive but it’s refined, and sometimes subtly can be a real treat.

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

image4

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.

image1

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.

image2

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.

image3

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. 

image4

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)

image5