REVIEW: Buff Bake Protein Sandwich Cookies (Snickerdoodle and Double Chocolate)

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At times silly, at times successful, and always divisive, the protein cookie game is an ever growing, and now evolving, market. While the end goal for most companies has been to produce a product that most closely mirrors a soft baked homestyle chewy craveable cookie, Buff Bake are pushing the field into uncharted and beloved territory – the Oreo. Buff Bake are mostly known for their protein-infused spreads, which I had one time and was underwhelmed by, and their Lenny & Larry’s-esque soft baked cookies, which, again, are just alright. However, their new line of Protein Sandwich Cookies promise the creme-filled satisfaction of the grocery GOAT with an added boost of protein. Each package contains four cookies for 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein, and, gasp, 12 grams of sugar.

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REVIEW: Marlo’s Bake Shop Soft Baked Biscotti (Original and Brown Sugar Coffee Cake)

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Although they aren’t as sexy as an oozing cream filled doughnut or as exciting as the latest wild Oreo flavor, I love me a good biscotti. As an avid coffee drinker how could I not get down with a cookie that’s usually baked twice to be extra hard and not only go along with but NEEDS a strong cup to reach its full potential? One year for Christmas I even replaced my usual batch of whimsy-and-butter laced goodies with three different types of biscotti. While I don’t tend to buy any particular type of biscotti and usually will just grab whatever the cafe I’m at has to go along with some espresso, I’ve found a great San Francisco based company putting a unique spin on the crunchy cookie. Marlo’s Bakeshop are a woman-owned bakery specializing in soft-baked biscotti that are free of preservatives and artificial flavors, with some inventive concoctions to boot. Continue reading

REVIEW: Limited Edition Chocolate Hazelnut Oreo

I imagine somewhere at the Nabisco headquarters there’s a plush office for the head of the Oreo flavor think tank. He has arguably one of the best jobs ever, and a filing cabinet full of bold and bright ideas to satisfy our junk food taste buds. Buried deep within one of those cabinets is a folder titled “Why the Hell Haven’t These Been Made Yet?”, brimming with combinations so absurdly obvious they don’t leave the room. Last year this file was dusted off to release the solid Dunkin’ Donuts Mocha Oreo, and while they couldn’t quite land the Nutella brand name for the ultimate team up, 2018 finally see’s the release of Chocolate Hazelnut Oreo.

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ YORK Peppermint Pattie

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to overdose on mint. While winter is the perfect time to let the chill in the air become the chill in your mouth, there’s one candy that reps the cooling effect year round like no other – YORK Peppermint Pattie’s. Thick, dense, chewy, and intensely minty, it’s the kind of candy you either love or hate, and fortunately for me I get down with the choco-mint overload. Continuing their tradition of collaborating with all of the biggest candy brands, Baskin Robbins have brought back the aptly titled YORK Peppermint Pattie for December, which combines mini YORK peppermint patties and a rich dark chocolate mint ribbon swirled in mint ice cream.

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Tiramisu

Tiramisu directly translates to “cheer me up” in Italian, and that’s pretty much how I feel about not only tiramisu, but damn near any ice cream I get the privilege of trying. Tiramisu holds a special place in my heart, as it’s become a pre-Christmas tradition for my girlfriend and I after a lovely meal of cioppino, and ice cream holds the biggest place in my heart of all foods. Needless to say, my heart feels like it’s about to explode with the latest Flavor of the Month from Baskin Robbins. Their take on Tiramisu is tiramisu-flavored ice cream with cake pieces, chocolate flakes, and a decadent chocolate coffee ribbon.

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Off the jump the tiramisu base tastes like everything it should. It’s a solid combination of chocolate and coffee that is not at all shy with its strong espresso notes. The texture is incredibly rich and creamy like tiramisu’s whipped mascarpone. While it isn’t cheesy persay, I wouldn’t call the actual dessert cheesy either, and the overall profile really works. The bitter coffee flavor is beautifully balanced by the sweetness, and while I was hesitant of a “tiramisu flavored” ice cream, BR really dialed in the flavors of one of the best Italian desserts.

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Amplifying the solid foundation laid by the base is the chocolate coffee ribbon, which adds an even darker, more bitter coffee presence and syrupy sweetness that is divine. It channels the intense depth of the usually soaked lady fingers so well that I actually get a bit of a sharp boozy component coming through that is unexpected for a mainstream scoop.

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The semisweet chocolate pieces add some very welcome textural contrast with a nice crunch and solid chocolate flavor. They’re evenly dispersed through the ice cream and help bring the much needed chocolate component to achieve a wonderful sweet and bitter balance with the strong coffee flavor.

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Cake pieces swimming in rich dairy seems like it would be a perfect substitution for tiramisu’s soaked lady fingers and they absolutely are. Soft, chewy, and slightly sweet, the cake pieces hold up their end of the dessert emulation wonderfully. Some of the cake pieces get caught up in the coffee ribbon and the combination of the two flavors reminds me of the cocoa powder dusting on top of a lovely slice of Italy’s finest. Such great flavor I was transported straight to a cozy evening in North Beach.

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While this may not be a new flavor, it’s one executed very well and worthy of its spot in the flavor of the month rotation. Whether you’re a fan of tiramisu, coffee flavored desserts, or just a damn good scoop of ice cream, this is one worth a visit to your local Baskin Robbins.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Fudge Covered Ritz Crackers

There are some food combinations that aren’t super obvious, but are super delicious. Peanut butter and bananas, strawberries and black pepper, Coca Cola and red wine, pineapple and pizza (controversial, I know, but I’m a fan), etc. Additionally, it can be stated that if you put chocolate on almost anything it becomes instantly better. Welcome to your life the next flavor combination you didn’t know you needed but you really truly do – Fudge Covered Ritz Crackers.

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As a certified graduate of the school of sweet and salty, I must tell you immediately that these are pure fire. They aren’t new, in fact they’ve been around since 2011, but if you’ve been sleeping on them you need to wake up and toss a box in your cart the next time you’re perusing the grocery store during the holidays (right now). This is less of a review and more of a call to action – I want you to understand.

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The concept is as simple as can be – take a standard Ritz cracker and cover it in chocolate fudge. The secret to the success is that Nabisco nailed the ratios of chocolate to cracker and used a decently high quality chocolate coating to seal the deal. The outer fudge layer isn’t thin but it also isn’t so thick that it dominates the entire profile. There’s a lovely balance of the crumbly buttery texture with pops of saltiness from the Ritz on the inside and creamy sweetness on the outside. The experience is a lot like a chocolate covered graham cracker but much softer, and as a result, undeniable.

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While they may not be peppermint or gingerbread or eggnog or anything you might relate to the holidays, Fudge Covered Ritz truly channel the magical feelings of Christmas. There’s something comforting and nostalgic in the flavor of the cracker that reminds me of staying home from school sick – hookie or otherwise. The cracker’s blanket of nostalgia mixed with a perfect amount of sugary chocolate bliss makes for a product that is so simple yet perfect in every way. Buy them now and snack happy.

Rating: 10/10

Found at: Target ($2.49)

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REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Buttered French Toast

There are few lines in the culinary world that are as blurry as the one between breakfast and dessert. Cakey, carb-y, hyper-sweet and deep fried indulgences that could be nearly the exact same thing with a slightly different name are commonplace on menus and in our American hearts as a way to start or end the day. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the morning and night are probably the worst two times to encourage a massive sugar spike and crash, but I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t delicious. Completely in line with that trend, Coolhaus rolled out a brand new pint that aims to put a piece of breakfast’s finest into our melty cones of delight. Buttered French Toast combines a buttered brown sugar ice cream with pecan pralines, cakey toast pieces, and a maple swirl.

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The buttered brown sugar base is lovely. Smooth and sweet with a bit of golden buttery flavor that compliments the natural dairy notes very well. It doesn’t have an artificial butter flavor to it like popcorn, but there’s a depth to it that pushes beyond the average sweet cream. There are also some lovely hints of maple that come through, and the breakfast vibes are fully intact.

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Those breakfast vibes get fully amplified when my spoon comes in contact with the thick maple swirl. It’s an incredibly unique gelatinous swirl that holds its shape and pops up in globs all throughout the pint. I wasn’t sure how to react to this, because it’s almost like maple Jello, but I appreciate how prominent it is and the way it channels the viscosity of thick syrup that has latched onto a chunk of butter to become something truly epic. It’s much less sweet than straight up syrup, but the maple notes come through and the texture holds up well against the velvety base.

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Speaking of texture, the pecan pralines and cakey toast pieces are both executed very well. The pralines are of medium size with a caramelized exterior and robust fatty pecan flavor that reminds me of all the great butter pecan ice cream’s I’ve scooped. The pecan flavor gets elevated to another level with the toast pieces, which have the wonderful springy texture of white bread and a soft buttery essence. Sometimes bread can get icy or seize up in ice cream and that is not an issue here at all. The combination of the toast pieces, maple swirl, and brown sugar ice cream nails the profile of a beautiful plate of french toast almost perfectly, and the sweet breakfast lovin’ boy in me is immensely satisfied.

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Buttered French Toast is without a doubt the strongest pint I’ve had from Coolhaus. The mix-in density and base breathability are on point, the flavors strong, and the desired experience of breakfast meets dessert conveyed wonderfully.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.cool.haus and coming to stores soon!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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REVIEW: Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip

Graeter’s have been churning out small batch super premium ice cream since 1870, and as a west coast ice cream lover I have a confession to make – I have never had Graeter’s! They don’t have any scoop shops on this side of the country and until recently didn’t have a ton of distribution in the area either. They use super high quality ingredients in their unique French Pot process which yields only two gallons at a time, resulting in super dense, heavy ice cream that is regarded as some of the best in the world by creamy aficionados everywhere. For my initial foray in Graeter’s territory I decided to go with what many deem a true classic – Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, which is simply black raspberry ice cream with their highly acclaimed chocolate chips.

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The ice cream has one of the most gorgeous deep purple hues I have ever seen, channeling the rich juicy flesh of the berries, and is incredibly eye catching and appealing. The texture, as expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, is velvety smooth and heavy, but has been churned with such expertise that it doesn’t feel aggressively fatty. Based on the intensity of the color, I’m actually a bit letdown by the flavor, which isn’t nearly as bold as I was expecting. The berry flavor is very subdued, not that sweet, and not tart either. I was expecting some lush berry notes, and instead am left with only the slightest hint of fruit. It seems that the fruity notes are getting washed out by the high butterfat content in the ice cream itself, and the intended creamy power play is actually working against the execution of the desired flavor.

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The chocolate chips, however, are very good. Many trusted ice cream sources, and even Graeter’s website, refer to the massive size of their chocolate chunks, and while I didn’t really get what I anticipated, I still love what is in this pint. The chocolate is in mostly smaller pieces with the occasional bigger boulder, but my goodness the flavor and texture of the pieces is flawless. There’s a deep, slightly bitter cocoa flavor that stands out strong against the dairy with a literal melt-in-your-mouth texture that is gentle and succulent like soft serve that has been dipped in magic shell. It is some of the softest, most perfect chocolate I have ever had in ice cream and falls somewhere in between chips and fudge with its beautiful textural give and flourish.

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All in all this is an okay introduction to Graeter’s for me. While I cannot deny the fantastic quality of the textures at play, the flavor in the base is lacking for such a high priced premium product. Good enough to try another flavor, but not impressive enough for me to go out and pick up this particular pint again. I have heard that Graeter’s quality took a hit once they got bigger distribution, and I get the feeling that if I scooped this in one of their shops I may have a different experience, but I can only grade what I’ve got.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

 

REVIEW: TastyKake Birthday Kake and Blueberry Mini Donuts

TastyKake are gunning for sweet summer nostalgia with a line of fun festive snack cakes bursting with berries and sunshine. While many of these cellophane-wrapped beauties are very hit or miss, mini donuts tends to really speak to my soul with their traditional ‘murican breakfast appeal and fun sized pop-ability. To welcome long days and short nights TastyKake blessed us with both Birthday Kake and Blueberry Mini Donuts, and I’m gonna have me a two-for-one mouth party.

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The Birthday Kake donuts, visually, are a real deal fiesta. They’re a spin on the classic mini crunch donut, but instead of being studded with crumbs of tan and brown, they’re an explosive sprinkle mix of blue, red, green, orange, and pink. The smell doesn’t immediately channel cake, but it doesn’t smell of coconut or cinnamon the way most crunch mini’s smell, and clearly they’re a different birthday beast.

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The texture is middle of the road – not super dry but also not the smoothest or moistest bagged donut I’ve had. The bite is soft with some crunch but not particularly exciting, and there isn’t nearly as much vanilla flavor as I anticipated with the big visual pop. To be honest, nothing about the flavor screams cake here aside from a touch of eggy-ness that hints at yellow cake, but not enough to truly satisfy. There are no elements of frosting or dominant vanilla that would truly channel a celebratory slice, and while they don’t taste bad, they’re ultimately kind of boring and nothing to don a pointy party hat for.

Rating: 5.5/10

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The Blueberry donuts are a summer-y spin on the standard powdered variety, with a good dose of coke white shimmer on the outside and a pretty purple on the inside. The smell is immediately big and bright with an intense sweetness and pretty authentic blueberry notes that seem more promising than the usual hyper-artificial flavors that go hand in hand with other berries (like strawberry).

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The texture on these ‘nuts is fantastic. Super soft and moist, they almost melt in my mouth when I bite in with a lovely squish that screams fresh summer delight. The blueberry is very assertive and sweet, with just a slight tartness that keeps them from going overboard. Make no mistake, they’re covered in sugar so they’re quite sweet, but the execution of the blueberry prevents the donut from being a single sugary note. While there are no actual pieces of blueberries like in a blueberry muffin, the flavor is dialed in and delicious and when it comes to the fruit-emulation game these are a real winner.

Rating: 8/10

*Disclosure*  These donuts were graciously sent to me by the folks at TastyKake but the cost of the cakes in no way influenced my opinion of them!