REVIEW: Limited Edition Cookie Butter Oreo

Cookie butter. Super delicious – but what the hell do you do with it? After pulverizing the wonderfully spice-laden European speculoos cookies into a sweet and crunchy spread akin to peanut butter, there aren’t too many paths to take other than a jar, a spoon, and a dimly lit kitchen. However, when feeling extra creative, indulgent, and cannibalistic, like topping a fried chicken sandwich with a fried egg, you can put that cookie butter into more cookies and make a cookie on cookie sandwich that should send sweet tooth’s spiraling into happiness. Enter – Oreo Limited Edition Cookie Butter Oreo’s.

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As is customary in opening all new bags of cookies, I inhale the sugary aroma, and as is customary with most limited Oreo flavors, the smell is predominantly of the wafer, in this case, graham. There’s pretty much no spicy speculoos-y scent coming from the pristine rows of tan on tan on tan, and I’m not that surprised.

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What I am surprised about though, is the flavor. These cookie butter cookies taste nearly nothing like cookie butter and entirely of graham cracker. The deep, spicy nuances of speculoos are nowhere to be found, and the creme simply backs up and mimics the flavor of the wafer. I love graham crackers, so the profile to me is overall pleasant, but it’s also a pretty big letdown, as there’s barely even a trace of cinnamon, let alone the nutmeg, cloves, pepper, or ginger I expect.

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Where I will give Nabisco some credit with this limited edition is in the texture of the creme, which they made gritty and slightly chunky to mimic what comes inside the jars of the real stuff. Unfortunately the grittiness is about all that really resembles the cookie butter in the isolated creme, as the underlining flavor is closer to regular sweet Oreo “white stuff” than any spicy spreadable magic.

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The one-noted aspect of these cookies ultimately makes them pretty boring. The most interesting part of eating these is the slight saltiness that’s revealed in the graham wafer against the relatively boring and flat creme. They’re less complex than a classic Oreo, and maybe even less complex than a Golden, and surprisingly one of the more disappointing limited releases this year. A creamy frosting-esque graham cracker? Most definitely. A cookie filled with cookie butter? Most definitely not.

Rating: 6.5/10
Found at: Target ($2.99)
Quick Nutrition: 2 cookies – 140 cal – 7g fat – 2g sat fat – 85mg sodium – 20g carb – 10g sugar – 1g protein

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s California Honey Rocky Road

The Bay Area is a wonderfully creative place. Our year round agreeable weather, crazy good food scene, and tech giants’ home bases have yielded tons of great innovation, but the inspiration has been alive for decades. Not just the now-mainstream mission style super burrito, or the the major metal influence of Metallica, or the game-changing person-to-person swapping of Craigslist, but something much more classic, and even nostalgic, has its roots in the bay – rocky road ice cream. Lore has it that in 1929 William Dreyer took his wife’s scissors and cut up walnuts and marshmallows to add to his chocolate ice cream on the regular in Oakland, California, mirroring a favorite candy bar made by his partner, Joseph Edy (recognize those names?) After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the ice cream creating duo swapped out walnuts for almonds and gave the flavor a name to would encourage people to smile in the midst of the Depression. 

Accidentally paying homage to its Bay Area roots, Salt & Straw’s California Honey Rocky Road combines chocolate cream cheese ice cream with candied California almonds and a ribbon of honey marshmallow fluff.
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The chocolate cream cheese ice cream is delicious but a little bit different than I anticipated. It’s incredibly smooth, rich, and velvety with the succulent texture of cream cheese but none of the tang. This isn’t an issue, just a bit of a surprise, as I would have welcomed a little bit of funk into the well-established profile of rocky road. The chocolate notes are light and on the milk side of the cocoa-equation, channeling old school scoop shops and little league malt cups eaten with a wooden spoon. It’s classic and very well executed, albeit a bit mild for my personal taste; and despite the cream cheese curveball in the description, shouldn’t push anyone away with unadventurous tastebuds.

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Candied nuts are one of my absolute favorite mix-ins, and this flavor highlights every reason why I love them. The almonds are crunchy, sweet, fatty, and bursting with roasted almond flavor. They pop up in varying sizes, from small pieces of a nut to massive soundeffect-inducing boulders. The candied technique used on the almonds is light and almost crisp, much less like brittle and much more like honeycomb or crisped rice, and it’s a refreshing textural treat.

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The real showstopper in this pint, and one that Salt & Straw is no stranger to using in other great flavors, is the honey marshmallow fluff. I want to go on record and say ALL marshmallow fluff should be made with honey. It takes absolutely nothing away from the gooey, stretchy-sweet qualities of the marshmallow and boosts it up with amazing golden honey goodness. There’s simply nothing lost and everything gained by fusing the two elements together. The swirl is incredibly ample and well-placed throughout the container, often setting up in massive globs big enough to get an entire spoonful, which is a must, and is indulgent deliciousness at its finest.

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Rocky road is not one of my go-to staple ice cream flavors, but this is the best rocky road I’ve ever had. It’s elevated enough to standout against the many others I’ve had while not steering too far away from the core of what makes this flavor what it is. With a darker, more complex chocolate base this could be a pint I have to stock up on for the winter, but as it stands it’s just a damn good twist on a classic, and an absolute must try if you’re a rocky road enthusiast.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco, CA)

REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Oreo

In 2014 Oreo joined the pumpkin spice party and I lost my shit. Autumn is the pinnacle party time for the tastebuds of señor cinnaslut (me) and the limited Oreo’s at the time had seen no spicy love, and were mostly a wash of weird fruit and ice cream flavors. I bought a package at first sighting and devoured them happily amid the glow of my three-wick Bath and Body Works Leaves candle. I was in my zone, and I loved them, but for whatever reason, I haven’t repurchased them the last couple of years. Being that this blog didn’t exist until last year I felt it was only fitting to give it another go, and shed some skillet light on the fourth season return of the Pumpkin Spice Oreo.

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The prominent cookie-nose on these pumpkin cookies is the very familiar scent of Golden Oreo’s – sweet and vanilla-y, with just a hint of cinnamon rounding it out. The combination of the golden wafer with the soft spice notes reminds me of graham, and I wonder how a graham wafer would change the profile – likely for the better.

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As a boy who loves him a healthy dose of spice, these Pumpkin-O’s are simply too subtle. The flavor starts just like the initial smell implies – almost identical to a Golden Oreo. It’s noticeably less sweet, being tamed by the artificial addition of spice flavoring, and only towards the end does it finish with a bit of cinnamon flair.

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Isolating the creme on its own reveals a bit more cinnamon depth, but still no tingle or real autumn intrigue is brought to the table. Although there’s a touch of cinnamon, the rest of the pumpkin spice gang – nutmeg, cloves, and ginger – are nowhere to be found. The cookie is actually less spicy and complex than the stellar Cinnamon Bun Oreo, which is a shame since it has “spice” in its name. It’s still a good tasting Oreo but it doesn’t bring anything particularly exciting to the table that makes me want to eat more, and I now remember why I passed on picking them up the last couple of years.

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

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline

The best time of the year is fast approaching, and as a certified spice fiend-ing cinna-slut I am ready for the equinox that arrives on September 22 at 1:02 PM PST. There will be so many special spicy pumpkin-y treats everywhere I turn that the air will taste of cloves. Since the leaves haven’t quite changed yet, I’ve found myself leaning back on the trusty year round crutch for myself and fellow spice-aholics – carrot cake. Seemingly in sync with my personal preferences for a little pre-autumn foreplay, Salt & Straw have laced their August Farmers Market series with an ode to one of the few desserts I would ever order with a vegetable in its name. Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline combines a carrot cake batter ice cream with candied hazelnuts and a swirl of cheesecake frosting.

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The carrot cake batter ice cream is executed with insane perfection. It’s extremely smooth and creamy but also hefty with shreds of carrots seamlessly working their way through nearly every bite. It eats like a cake-baking dream, with spicy notes of nutmeg and cinnamon beneath a wonderfully balanced sweetness from both the dairy and the carrots themselves. In every way it reminds me of the scraping and licking reward after whipping up some batter and I can’t think of a single way that the base could be improved to more accurately translate that highlight of any day in the kitchen.

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While I generally associate walnuts with carrot cake I absolutely love the candied hazelnuts S&S threw into the mix here. They definitely have a slight candied sweet quality to them, but what they really provide is a dark, roasted, burnt-in-a-good way, caramelized richness that brings huge contrast and legitimate spoon intrigue to the equation. Hazelnut’s naturally have an intense, almost harsh flavor to them, and the aggressive roasted quality works well to heighten the presence of the spices in the “batter” as well as offset the general sweetness throughout. They also add a significant textural pop to the pint, with both a nutty crunch and a praline squish that is everything a perfect mix-in should be. Simply put, I love them.

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The swirl of “cheesecake” frosting, much like the inclusion of hazelnuts, is another brilliant slight switch up to the carrot cake formula that works wonders here. The swirl is essentially a cream cheese frosting but has a more restrained sweetness than the usual straight forward frosting or glaze with some beautiful cheesy notes and ample vanilla. The ribbon is dotted with vanilla beans which play perfectly against the tang and give a very cohesive and slightly savory but still predominantly sweet flavor in tandem with the base. It’s integrated seamlessly throughout the pint, with some thick sheets along the sides, never getting too dominant, but never straying too far from the spoon either.

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Despite the zero percent of actual cake in this pint, this is my favorite carrot cake flavored thing I have ever had that isn’t in actual slice form. The flavors are incredible, the idea is inventive, and the execution is immaculate. It is extremely rare for a cake batter ice cream to really channel the joys of licking the spoon, and this one not only does that, but does it in a way that is creative, elevated, and delicious.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: Salt & Straw ($11 – online and in stores)

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REVIEW: Krispy Kreme’s Eclipse Chocolate Glazed Doughnut

Today is the first total eclipse of my lifetime. For the lucky, small percent of those within the path of totality in the U.S., the sky will go temporarily dark during the middle of the day, and for the rest of us, it will go semi-dark. Stars will appear, the temperature will drop, and the animals will be confused as all hell. That’s pretty cool, but to be honest, I didn’t do so great in Astronomy class, and I can’t see a damn thing through this San Francisco fog anyway, so fortunately for me, today also marks the first time in HISTORY that something else is seeing the dark side – the Krispy Kreme waterfall of glaze. To celebrate North America’s moon party, today only (and for two soft evenings this past weekend when I snuck in) the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign will mean super fresh, melty, yeast doughnuts shimmering with black chocolate instead of the usual opaque tan sugar glaze.

I’ve gotta give Krispy Kreme some credit for their hype-o-meter skills. Rolling up at 6:30 PM on Saturday was the most poppin’ and clustered I’ve seen the shop since their big rollout and notorious over expansion in the 90’s. There wasn’t a line out the door, but the parking lot was full and the conveyor belt of doughy dreams was stopped and nearly empty – the first batch had already sold out! No worries, though, about ten minutes later the flour power was restored and the drooling group of people filming through the glass like an animal was giving birth at the zoo (myself included) simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief.

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The doughnut is the same in size, shape, and flavor as the KK original glazed, except for the glaze. It has almost the same light, airy, “I-could-eat-about-six-of-these” texture that I know and love, and is incredibly soft and delectable, but feels a little heavier and ever so slightly denser than its big bro; probably from the cocoa powder. The chocolate glaze actually makes a pretty significant change to the overall experience as it is much less sweet, with slightly bitter cocoa notes taking place of the usually sharp and bright sugary flourish. It isn’t a dark chocolate by any means, but compared to what is usually offered it is a notably more subdued and less intense version of the circular splendor.

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The other major difference is that the oily fried flavor comes through stronger with the chocolate, as there isn’t that huge wallop of sugar to cover it up. It isn’t greasy, it just has that golden flavor much like smaller french fries that get extra crispy, and it could be a good or bad thing depending on what you enjoy. I like crispy fried fries and a golden crunch on the outside of an old fashioned cake doughnut, but I’m not sure how much I love the flavor being so pronounced here.

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This is a solid doughnut, but not nearly as incredible as the original. When I have a Krispy Kreme glazed that’s been made within the last couple of hours, I marvel at its simplistic beauty as I’m taken over by its sugary perfection, and the chocolate version, while good, simply can’t eclipse it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Krispy Kreme ($1.39)

FOOD FIND: Third Culture Bakery’s Mochi Muffin

Third Culture Bakery are a Berkeley-based company specializing in East meets West baked goods with no designated brick and mortar location but distribution to a number of cafes and eateries in the Bay Area, including the popular Boba Guys in San Francisco.  I got wind of their inventive Mochi Muffin and had to try one.  I was fortunate to find a cool small shop near me called Chapter Two Coffee that gets deliveries from Third Culture a couple times a week.

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The outside has a firm muffin-esque crust that gives way to a perfect squishy mochi interior.  It’s soft and dense yet pillowy and just slightly sweet. Initially I thought it was kind of odd, and then I realized it’s absolutely delicious.

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The flavor as a whole reminds me of the crispy caramelized exterior of a chocolate chip cookie with all of its beautiful buttery brown sugar nuances.  The black and white sesame seeds on top add a nice subtle crunch and pop of savoriness that ties the unique nature of the experience together wonderfully.  All the fun dense-yet-soft feeling of mochi with the heartiness of a muffin – such a delightful treat with a strong cup of coffee or espresso.

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s The Roxie Road

Popcorn is one of my favorite foods. It’s a volume snack I can put back with light crunchy ease that tastes fantastic AND actually has some fiber and protein to go along with its deliciousness. Whether its the straight ahead low fat sea salt bagged variety, or the naughty oil drenched stuff in a dark movie theater, or a crunchy drizzled sugary treat, popcorn is a mainstay in my diet and I love it. As popular as it is, it rarely finds itself incorporated in my, and America’s, favorite dessert – ice cream. While it may sound kind of strange, the roasty, buttery, sweet and salty potential of popcorn is actually an amazing mashup for making a wonderful ice cream, and for the June Rescued Food series Salt & Straw did just that. Utilizing leftover popcorn from the Roxie Theater, S&S created a popcorn ice cream base and mixed it with their house caramel and a coffee-flour cookie crumble to create The Roxie Road.

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The popcorn flavor in the base is fairly subtle, but comes across in initial bites when I search for it. Beneath the layers of silky smooth high quality dairy are gentle corn notes that finish with a slightly roasted butter flavor. Much more apparent than a straight ahead popcorn flavor is an overall butteriness that aids in the texture and makes it feel and taste like an elevated corny sweet cream. The execution and overall effectiveness of the popcorn experience would have been greatly amplified by a saltier presence, which we know Salt & Straw can do extremely well in their Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and countless other stellar releases. Even though it’s lacking some salty pop there’s no doubt this isn’t vanilla and it’s a really tasty ice cream.

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The caramel in this pint is the same fantastic S&S caramel that I know and love – thick and rich with an impressively dark burnt flavor that is my absolute favorite caramel in any ice cream. It isn’t particularly salty but does reset my tastebuds to be able to taste the popcorn flavor in the base more prominently, and is a wonderful compliment to pretty much anything it touches.

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The surprise factor in this flavor, and my favorite element, are the coffee-flour cookie crumbles. There are some smaller “crumbles” sprinkled throughout, but also big hunkin’ chunks that explode with a gritty cookie texture and robust coffee flavor that are unexpectedly delicious. The chunks are hard, almost like a piece of toffee, and are equal parts intense coffee grounds and bitter chocolate notes. It’s almost like a super coffee-forward shortbread, crumbling beneath my teeth, and the bitter coffee flavor is very welcome in the sea of sweet creaminess.

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I was ecstatic when S&S announced they were doing a popcorn-infused base, and while it is a fantastic ice cream, I wish it was a bit more popcorn-y. The best popcorn base I’ve ever had was in a Humphry Slocombe seasonal last year called Peaches and Popcorn, and I feel as though I will be forever chasing that buttery salty memory. Regardless of any small flavor preferences, if you like buttery ice cream with sensational caramel and bursts of bitter coffee and are fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area this one is definitely worth at least a scoop, and probably a pint to boot.
Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco)