REVIEW: CinnaFuego Toast Crunch

CinnaFuego Toast Crunch is a limited edition niche snack release done the right way. Unlike the recent collab between Ritz and Oreo and the ongoing Ritz Bitz S’mores re-release, where packages are made available to 1,000 people or less, this spicy cereal can be found online exclusively at Walmart. Sure, you’ll have to pay shipping, but everyone has a chance to get their hands on this sweet and spicy cereal snack that was way too much fun for me to resist ordering the day it dropped.

The pieces of toast look identical to the crazy squares in Cinnamon Toast Crunch I know and love, but there is an intense spicy cinnamon aroma wafting from the bag straight into my nostrils. It smells distinctly like the type of cinnamon heat I associate with Hot Tamales, Big Red gum, Atomic Fireballs, and those delicious cinnamon bears. In fact, if you’ve had a long night out with one too many shots of Fireball whisky you may get flashbacks from sniffing these fiery squares.

The taste mirrors the smell, with a punchy spicy cinnamon flavor that fuses together pretty naturally with the buttery cinnamon base of CTC. The finish gets a bit black peppery and I can feel the heat lingering in the back of my throat. I’m impressed by the level of spice but it’s definitely still a cinnamon spice as opposed to cayenne or something with a vegetal peppery taste like habanero. Never forget the cinnamon challenge, though, if you breath in too hard while snacking on this cereal you’ll cough — I definitely did. I can see people really hating this; it’s definitely a divisive and borderline aggressive flavor, but as a certified cinnamon fiend I am vibing hard.

In milk this cereal is a little weird. I don’t hate it but I don’t really enjoy it either. Milk tends to temper heat but I’ve found the unsweetened almond milk I eat cereal with to make it less sweet and a touch more peppery without being as punchy on the cinnamon front. I’m more of a dry cereal snacker anyway so this doesn’t really bother me and I’ll happily enjoy this spicy-TC at its crunchiest.

While it’s still available I’d recommend grabbing this limited edition bag to anyone who loves sweet and spicy, or are like me and insist on ingesting all new members of the Toast Crunch family.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: walmart.com ($5.98)

REVIEW: Limited Edition Neapolitan Oreo Cookies

It has been a long time since I’ve posted about a new Oreo here. It’s also been a long time since Nabisco has released a notable Oreo to the ice cream community. I’ve eaten all of them, and written about some for The Impulsive Buy, but this rehashing of 2011’s “Triple Double Oreo Neapolitan” needed to be addressed on the skillet. Just in time for yesterday’s national ice cream day, 2022’s Limited Edition Neapolitan Oreo Cookies combine vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavored cremes with a waffle cone flavored cookie.

Yes, you read that right, a waffle cone flavored cookie. That is what had me frantically hunting for these the moment they dropped; absolutely teeming with excitement. A waffle cone is such a special flavor ensconced in nostalgic ice cream dates layered with deep orange sunset hues and long shadows from nearby tree branches. I love them, and I almost exclusively enjoy them at my favorite scoop shops. So did they pull it off? Yes, I think they did.

Waffle cone is a hard flavor to pin down, and when I think of what I might taste I think of it as typically going one of two ways — slightly buttery with vanilla and almond accents similar to a bigger cylindrical fortune cookie, or a little darker with notes of brown sugar and cinnamon; or a combination of the two. I’ve even had waffle cones with notes of lemon, so it’s not always a decidedly specific flavor, and as such I wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I bit in. But one thing is for sure, visually — the criss cross hatches of the waffle cone on one side of the cookie is the perfect touch. 

Nabisco went with cinnamon as its choice for waffle cone emulation and it absolutely works. It tastes a lot like a waffle cone from Cold Stone, almost spot on, with a satisfying crunch that really hits home. Had the wafer carried a vanilla flavor it would be too similar to the standard Golden, which is too sweet of a vessel for a triple stack of creme, and as much as I love it, an appropriate amount of almond would have been too subtle to make much of an impact. I’ve had issues in the last couple of years with Oreo’s wafer texture being different, not nearly as soft and crumbly, but these are hard and crunchy in a good way, with intention, and it simulates the tough crunch of a waffle cone really well without feeling stale or clunky.

The big bold crunch of the cinnamon-y shell gives way to the satisfying smooth squish of three creme’s and I swear to you I’m not THAT high on scoop shop nostalgia when I say…these actually taste like Neapolitan ice cream. The vanilla is your standard OG Oreo creme, that much like vanilla in a container if Neapolitan, is the background support for the other two. The chocolate is nice and dark with a touch of bitterness and a fudge-y quality, and the strawberry has a classic scoop shop strawberries and cream presence to it — surprisingly not overwhelmingly artificial and Nesquick-adjacent, with a touch of tart in the finish. I did my best to pick apart the flavors but that’s not what this is about, this is about the entirety of the flavors combined with the crunch and brown sugar cinnamon accents in the cookie. Some bites are more strawberry-heavy or choco-heavy, depending on the balance in the individual cookie, which makes alternating bites unique and even more fun.

Not only do the flavors work but the texture is immaculate as well, it feels delightfully like a mouthful of frosting. Sometimes when too many creme’s get stacked they can come across with a cloying density, but here the creme’s are fresh and soft with an ice cream-like creaminess that’s very sweet but appropriate. I love these cookies, and if you have a soft spot for ice cream dates and grocery store sweets you must toss these in your cart the moment you see them.

Rating: 9.5/10

Found at: Target ($3.99)

REVIEW: Caffe Panna Minted Panna

Caffe Panna’s People Pleaser Pack has arrived on Goldbelly, which means it’s time for some decadence. Since 2019 Hallie Meyer and Caffe Panna have cranked out some of the best and most innovative ice cream in the country, and thanks to dry ice and the internet, it reaches mouths far from their New York scoop shop. I’m kicking off the pack with a divisive flavor combo that I happen to love — chocolate and mint. Minted Panna is panna peppermint ice cream with fudge coated minty cookie chunks and house made Oreo ganache.

The peppermint base is absolutely fantastic. It is rich and creamy with an exceptionally smooth texture that really highlights the high quality Italian cream (panna). The peppermint is there but not overly aggressive, it’s mild and balanced to the point I would almost consider it a vanilla peppermint or peppermint sweet cream, like a melty sugary after dinner mint. The flavor is absolutely nothing like the dreaded tingly toothpaste taste that mint haters fear, yet it’s present and punchy enough to satisfy mint lovers like me. Flawless victory.

The flavor description gets kinda cheeky with it but I’m almost positive these are Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, and once again they’re immaculately executed. The fudge coating allows the cookies to retain all of their crunch, and as much as I enjoy a traditional softened cookies and cream scoop I’ll take that chompy-ness ANY day. Due to the mint in the base and the extra coco-coating I get much more bittersweet chocolate flavor from the cookies than mint, but there’s no doubt a little extra cooling factor wafts in from each bite of the cookies. The chunks are pretty big and respectable, with a scattering of smaller pieces all the way to the bottom, but my pint did briefly dry out on the mix-in front pretty substantially in the middle. Luckily the peppermint base is so damn good.

My only gripe with this pint is the house made Oreo ganache because…I’m not sure I got any? There are some whispers of something that may have been gooey around some of the cookies, especially at the top, but that seems more like cookie blood than ganache. I was looking for something akin to Caffe Panna’s iconic Oreo brittle with a rich buttery or salty flavor, but softer and gooier, and I never found it; which is a shame because this flavor has potential to be an all timer for mint chocolate lovers.

Whether there was an accident when packing the pint or I’m not understanding what I’m seeing and tasting (although I’m pretty sure I know) I can’t deny how much I enjoy this ice cream. Two flawlessly executed components and one missing in action still has me wanting to lick the container when it’s empty —  I can’t deny its deliciousness and potential for greatness.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($114.99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Limited Edition Goldfish Old Bay Seasoned Crackers

Last year Goldfish began its creative collaborative journey via an impressive outing with Franks RedHot, and almost exactly one year later a second seasoning-inspired Goldfish has arrived — Old Bay. I am a huge fan of seafood but don’t love Old Bay as much as a lotta fish heads do, it’s a bit too celery-forward for how I like my crab, but I am really enjoying these crackers.

I assumed, like the RedHot variety, these would be the staple orange colored cheddar flavored fish, but they’re more of a plain white cracker, perhaps the blue-bagged “original” flavor, which reminds me of an oyster cracker or saltine in the best way. My first crunchy bite definitely gives me a prominent celery salt taste that I don’t love, but it quickly fades with subsequent handfuls. The combination of the salty spice and herbs on the crackers builds up to a pretty profound savory experience that gets buttery and creamy in a way that channels oyster crackers sitting atop clam chowder. There are notes of onion, garlic, paprika, and a subtle vinegary tang in the background. They’re delicious, and the seasoning is pretty convincingly distributed across the hundreds of fishies swimming in the bag.

This is a pretty straight forward idea — take a beloved seasoning and put it on a beloved cracker — but it’s executed extremely well and is just weird enough to appeal to those who have a sickening affinity for limited edition collabs (me, and probably you). Old Bay Goldfish are addictive and endlessly snack-able, with with some perfectly simple and eye catching packaging to bring the whole concept to brilliant salty life.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Lucky ($2.49)

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Strawberry Lemonade Joe-Joe’s

It has been awhile since Trader Joe’s released a new flavor of Joe-Joe. There have been the seasonal staples of Candy Cane and Pumpkin, as well as 2016’s Mango variety popping back up, but when was the last time we got an entirely new flavor of Joe-Joe? I couldn’t tell ya an exact date, but I’m pretty sure this is the first one since the pandemic broke out in 2020. And if it isn’t, I have pandemic brain, which has melted away a lot of my memory — so apologies if I missed an all time Joe-Joe in the last 2.5 years. Strawberry Lemonade Joe-Joe’s combine a lemon flavored cookie with strawberry creme.

I ripped into these before realizing they were a lemon flavored cookie wafer, I was too excited to try a new and unique combination to read the box. I generally like Joe-Joe’s, but at times they can come off kind of flat, which isn’t the case here, and I’m going to place the responsibility for that on the non-plain cookie. They don’t have a particularly bold lemon flavor, no zest in sight, but they remind me instantly of the now-RIP’d Girl Scouts Lemon Sandwich Cookies, and that’s a very good thing. The cookie is soft and crumbly with a buttery undertone, which is surprising because these are vegan with no butter in the ingredients.

After the initial burst of mild lemon comes the rush of strawberry, which, thanks to actual pieces of dried strawberry in the creme, is pretty tart. I actually thought the wafers were more lemony than they were because the tart zing from the creme reminds me so much of lemon’s bright acidity, and they work really well together. The strawberry flavor is extremely natural with no artificial candy or Nesquick notes at all. While it does taste very natural, the combination of lemon and strawberry conjures up a milky spoonful of Froot Loops, but in the most clean and organic way possible.

While we may have had to wait a few too many years for them to pop up, these new Joe-Joe’s are fantastic, striking a beautiful balance between sweet and tart that will keep you gleefully snacking into the summer solstice. And yes, they are truly as refreshing as a cold glass of strawberry lemonade, and do that summery porch staple plenty of justice.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Trader Joe’s ($3.99)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw Bottomless Limes!

When Salt & Straw head ice cream maker Tyler Malek opens his coveted creative doors to children under the age of 13 for the Student Inventor Series he doesn’t simply request base and mix-in ideas, he asks them for a story to turn into a flavor. The stories are, as expected, pretty wild and…psychedelic; and his ability to turn those concepts into scaleable, sellable, pint-able entires into Salt & Straw’s history is nothing short of impressive. There have been times in the past where we, as the consumer, only get the story, or a portion of it, to decipher what the flavor was going to be. This year the stories are all well documented and can be read on Salt & Straw’s website, but we also have a more traditional description to help guide which to scoop and which to skip based on personal flavor preferences. 

Those descriptions are usually pretty helpful and clear, but this one left me a bit stumped going into it — and I’m glad I took the risk! Bottomless Limes is described as, “In celebration of a most mysterious holiday, we ribbon in Key Lime cheesecake with hunks of golden pie crust, crystallized with brown sugar and ginger, and shards of sprinkle-studded chocolate bark.”

This ice cream is absolutely chaotic, and I love it. It’s not chaotic in the way Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake is, where there are tons of sweet and salty components in a sea of brown and black, it’s chaotic in the sense that it looks visually perplexing and I can’t really describe what’s going on. What flavor is the base ice cream? I couldn’t tell ya! It’s nearly impossible for me to isolate it without a sprinkle or chocolate shard popping onto the spoon, which, for someone who loves texture, isn’t a problem at all. My best guess for the base is vanilla, but it doesn’t really sing with any particularly classic floral vanilla notes, so I’ll simply scoop on and enjoy its smooth dense texture and premium mouthfeel.

The most prominent flavor that jumps out at me upon tasting, and the one I hoped would be very present, is the golden pie crust. The crust is unmistakably graham cracker, with a beautifully buttery brown sugar and molasses essence that tastes like the foundation of any perfect cheesecake. I don’t feel its gentle grittiness as much as I taste it, and I love how its presence seems to pop up in every other bite. There are occasional bigger chunks of the crust and they have a dense soft chew that’s every bit as wonderful as the real deal on a slice of NY’s finest.

Also in every other bite, or nearly every bite, are the variably sized shards of chocolate. There’s both a darker bittersweet chocolate and more traditionally sugary white, which adds a firm crunch and great sweetness to the delicious sea of controlled madness. There are also super crunchy ball-shaped Christmas-colored sprinkles which bleed into the base for more visually appealing chaos. It’s like an epic technicolored chocolate chip ice cream at its core, and it’s so fun to eat.

With a name like “Bottomless Limes!” I expected the flavor to be overly citrusy, but it isn’t, and I really appreciate the balance on display. The key lime cheesecake pops up in big bright green chunks throughout, and once the ice cream is properly tempered it has the perfect smooth and luscious cheesecake texture with bright acidity and tangy depth. There is no mistaking this dense swirl for anything other than cheesecake, and it pairs surprisingly well with the more bitter notes from the chocolate bark. One moment the pint is sweet, then tangy, then cheesy, then crunchy, then creamy — and it all works. It’s a very heavy ice cream that needs extra time to temper, but once you practice patience you will be rewarded with an amazingly decadent experience.

Once I read the story by 12-year-old Rae and learned that this flavor was inspired by a bottomless pit, this pint made a whole lotta sense. Eating it does remind me of a spiral into chaos, like endlessly falling into the abyss, but it’s a very tasty plummet with complex complimentary flavors that come together in tasty execution as brilliantly as they look.

Rating: 9.5/10

Found at: Salt & Straw ($13.00)

REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel

Haagen-Dazs recently released a new City Sweets collection, comprised of both bars and “pints” (14 ounce containers instead of what should be 16, but they’ve been doing this since 2009 so it’s no new controversy). The new ice creams go for a straight forward dessert-centric and “indulgent” profile, paying homage to black and white cookies, cake pops, and one that called my name immediately: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel — chocolate ice cream with creamy peanut butter swirls and lightly salted pretzel pieces.

This “pint” is…confusing. Chocolate Peanut Butter is one of the stand out staples from HD, so adding the hit-or-miss pretzels should make its success dependent on the mix-in, but this is not the HD chocolate I thought I knew. Simply put, this ice cream tempers like shit. 

As you can see in the pictures it stayed really firm and hard to scoop after over 10 minutes on the counter, nearly 15. To peel behind the curtain: when I review a pint I’ll usually let it soften for 5-10 minutes, do some scooping and picture taking, then let it sit in the bowl for another 5 or so before it’s at its perfect temperature. This ice cream simply never let up, I couldn’t get a decent spoon shot and it was frustrating; but eventually I figured it out — peanut butter overload! 

There is so much peanut butter mixed throughout that it never found its smooth and creamy sweet spot. If that was the only issue I would have been fine with it, but the base doesn’t taste right either. It’s extremely light. The chocolate flavor is mild and boring and lacking any kind of character that can stand up to the salty magnificence of PB and pretzels. A lot of my fellow reviewers complain about B&J’s chocolate (I actually like it!) but THIS is a true mediocre chocolate, especially coming from a company known for having some of the best base quality in the grocery store.

That being said — the mix-in game here is stronger than anticipated. As mentioned earlier, tons of peanut butter, maybe to the detriment of the pint as a whole, and also lot’s of pretzels. The pretzels have an admirable success rate of crunchiness too, probably 80%, which I’ve learned over the years is on the higher end of realistic. This flavor feels like HD tried to take more of a B&J approach and hit on the mix-ins but missed on the foundation that makes their company great — the quality of the ice cream.

Rating: 5.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($3.99)

REVIEW: Bad Walter’s Dream Team

Chocolate and peanut butter: a love story as old as time, and a combination I am ALWAYS down to smash. The February flavor of the month from Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream utilizes this iconic pairing and boosts it with a little twist. Dream Team is dark chocolate custard with butter crunch toffee and peanut butter swirls. 

I don’t usually do this but I want to start with the bad. It’s really not that bad, don’t worry, but my only negative about the pint. Despite the alluring streaks on the outside and the big glob on top there wasn’t as much peanut butter as I had hoped! There was some there, for sure, but after that strong opening slather I didn’t get anymore significant PB until I reached the very bottom, more than 3/4 of the way down. I’m guessing this means the swirls sunk, possibly from not freezing fast enough, and I missed a pivotal part of the dream team for a lot of this scooping experience. That being said, when I got the PB it was creamy, salty and fatty in the best way.

The dark chocolate custard is dark and divine. It has properly deep bitter notes while still being sweet enough to eat like a dessert. It tempers differently than the Bad Walters I’ve had in the past, much slower and not quite as decadent and creamy for a custard.  It reminds me more of a gelato with a bit less luscious mouthfeel and more flavorful purity. Although it’s not exactly what I expected, I don’t mind it, probably a result of the heavy handed cocoa powder, as the dark chocolate flavor REALLY comes through. It just needs an extra five minutes (about 15 total) to get to the level of creamy I’m looking for, and I’m always willing to wait longer to get my precious pints where they need to be.

The shining star of this pint is the toffee. Man oh man the butter crunch toffee is flawless. It’s cut into the most perfect size — big enough to bring crunch but small enough that it doesn’t get too hard — and delivers everything I want from a mix-in. It’s buttery and sweet with a chomp that leads to a caramelized crumble with a hint of salt that I wish never ended. Sometimes toffee in ice cream can threaten the integrity of our teeth, not here, it only threatens my sanity now that it’s gone!

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Bad Walter’s ($13.50)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw Beet Red Velvet Cheesecake (V)

It’s August, which means in Salt & Straw land it’s time to put some veggies into ice cream. The idea may seem a little strange at first but last year’s Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline was hands down one of my favorites of the year, and the Chocolate Zucchini Bread was no slouch either. Vegetables can be pretty incredible for a vessel of sweetness when paired up properly, whether for texture, flavor, or in this case, even just color. Beet Red Velvet Cake is a chocolate and beet coconut ice cream with chunks of homemade super dark gluten free chocolate cake and ribbons of vegan vanilla cheesecake.

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REVIEW: Little Debbie S’mores Cake Rolls

It’s the last week of July, which in commercial snack land means Halloween is right around the corner. Yes, even though in California, and especially in the Bay, we have yet to hit our temperature max, I know in my spooky spicy cinnamon-pumping heart that once that second week of August rolls around there will be pumpkins EVERYWHERE. So before I start spiraling into the autumnal abyss, it seems fitting to cap things off with one last summery s’mores treat, especially since I’m a pretty big cheerleader for Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Spice Rolls. Little Debbie’s S’mores Cake Rolls combine a graham cake with crème filling and a chocolate drizzle.

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