REVIEW: Ample Hills’ Big Ample Circus

Big Apple Circus began in New York in 1977 as an intimate European style one ring alternative to the then-popular and glitzy American three ring variety. While my personal experience with going to the circus has been limited to the mediocre Barnum & Bailey and incredible Cirque du Soleil, I am extremely happy that Big Apple is celebrating 40 years of showmanship. Anything that leads to a new limited collaboration with Ample Hills is one worthy of applause, and I have been anxiously clapping by myself in California waiting for this frozen phenom to arrive. Big Ample Circus combines sweet cream ice cream with popcorn toffee and red sugar-toasted peanuts.

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Apparently being taken out to the ball game is a lot like taking a trip to the circus. This is straight up Cracker Jacks ice cream and I’m root-root-rooting for Ample Hills because they absolutely destroyed it. The major difference here is that every box of Cracker Jacks I’ve had since surpassing the age of 9 has tasted cheap and shitty, and the quality on display in this pint is the polar opposite.

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The sweet cream base is absolute perfection. Plain without being boring. Sweet without being cloying. Rich without being too heavy. Everything that I want from a sweet cream is on display in full decadence here. The driving flavor is pure milky high quality dairy that serves as a wonderful canvas to the epic amount of mix-ins AH crammed into the pint. There’s a dense texture from the more heavy-handed custard style use of egg yolks, and the lavish custardy is dialed in immaculately.

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The popcorn toffee weaves its way through the pint in giant chunks and is where my Cracker Jacks nostalgia switch really got activated. The toffee is essentially pieces of caramel corn stuck together in buttery bricks with a deep roasted burnt sugar flavor that is roasty, toasty, and comforting. The pieces are crunchy but not in a tooth-shattering way, and crumble with a beautiful silky butteriness that gives way to chewy popcorn. There’s a lovely hint of saltiness that pokes its way through the sweetness and a perfect top rope balancing act is in full effect.

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There are so many wild looking red sugar swirls bleeding into the base from the toasted candy coated peanuts that I keep expecting to taste cherry, but the peanut blood is relatively flavorless. Even though so much of the color has swirled its way into the sweet cream, many of the peanuts still have their candy coating intact, and crunch with a satisfying sugary but roasted pop that is downright deadly. Candied nuts work incredibly well as a mix-in, bringing more fat and sugar to the already deviously delicious mixture of butter and cream. Anytime they make an appearance is a good move in my book, and this one reads like a masterpiece.

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Big Ample Circus is a flavor that achieves on every level. It takes me back to a simpler time, eating Cracker Jacks and watching elephants do funny tricks in top hats, but also presents an elevated and high quality ice cream that stands strong on its own – no gimmick required. Three simple elements all executed with finesse is the ultimate recipe for success, and this is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

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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: Twizzler’s Filled Twists Flavor of Florida Key Lime Pie and Orange Cream Pop

Hershey’s are hell bent on us tasting the most iconic states in America.  From California’s Strawberry Kit Kat to Texas’ BBQ Payday, they want to make SURE we can put America in our mouth without leaving the couch.  In an effort to give sunny citrusy Florida its fair due, and apparently admitting they kind of screwed them by not giving them any chocolate, Hershey’s have TWO Flavors of Florida Twizzlers Filled Twists – Key Lime Pie and Orange Cream Pop.

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The Key Lime Pie twist immediately hits me with the one flavor I wasn’t expecting to taste at all – graham cracker crust.  I find this bizarre but kind of tasty, as I’m getting way more golden graham flavor than tart lime.  In fact, there’s so much crusty flavor going on that the usually insanely sweet Twizzler becomes slightly savory…and it’s kind of weird.  The balance is off, since key limes have a notoriously sweet-sour combo that define the typical profile of the pie, and there’s only a small bit of crust that lines the bottom – Hershey’s decided to flip this ratio upside down.

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The lime flavor is there, and comes through with a bit of pop towards the end, but the filling inside of this Twizzler must be crust-injected because it really is incredibly prominent.  There are no graham cracker crumbs listed in the ingredients, but the Hershey-scientists really did some impressive work to get the flavor in there, it just doesn’t have the right balance.  While it needs more citrus, I like the complexity this Twizzler offers, which isn’t something I ever expected to say about something neon green.

The Orange Cream Pop is much more what I was expecting the product to taste like.  It’s immediately sweet and citrusy with a soft vanilla cream center that perfectly mimics the popsicle on the front of the package.  I get that same sensation of the different textures that come in a Creamsicle, with the squishy licorice exterior taking place of the icy water-forward frozen pop, and the creamy filling playing the role of classic vanilla ice cream.  It’s pretty much perfectly executed as a familiar flavor, but I can’t help but feel like it’s also a really straight forward profile to pull off with ease.

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These Twizzlers are much more repeat-noshable for me than the Key Lime, and satisfy that sticky sweet licorice sensation that I want when choosing a candy like this.  I really enjoy the seasonal Caramel Apple Twizzlers, and they’re pretty much the only reason why I even batted an eye at this product in the first place.

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While neither of them are gross, they don’t really beckon me to want to eat much more either, but I’m kind of fascinated by how weird the Key Lime are, as it’s rare a candy tastes nothing like what I anticipated.  Both of these are fairly successful, but I wouldn’t recommend searching for these unless you absolutely love sticky sticks of sugar or are one of those people that think Creamsicles are the greatest frozen thing man ever invented (you know you’re out there..weirdos).

Key Lime Pie Rating: 6/10
Orange Cream Pop Rating: 7/10

Found at: CVS ($3.99 each)

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Frosted Strawberry Donettes

There’s something appealing about mini things. Mini cupcakes, mini peanut butter cups, personal pizzas, sneaky baby bottles of booze…and, donuts, or, Donettes, as Hostess appropriately calls them. These miniature tire-esque circles of sugary delight have always tempted me, and what better time to be lured by temptation than the season of love? To help get our love juices flowing, Hostess have injected their already aphrodisiac-laden chocolate Donettes with another aphro-treat – strawberry, for a fiery start to your Valentine’s Day morning.

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Biting in there is a predominantly sweet but slightly tart strawberry flavor that breaks through the chocolate and stands out pretty powerfully on its own. The two flavors compliment each other well, with the bite beginning on chocolate and gradually transforming to berry, leaving a distinctly artificial strawberry presence on the tongue.  While the taste is artificial and candy-like in nature it isn’t too overwhelmingly sweet, which would have made it difficult to eat more than one or two (not a problem).  Fake strawberry tends to be more agreeable and easily executed than cherry, and these little dough balls are no exception.

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The strongest element of this Donette is its texture. The outside, while still having that classic Hostess waxy element to it, is incredibly soft and thin, giving an airy snap when chewing.  That outer coating is a very distinct texture that for whatever reason works better on mini donuts than any other kind of snack cake.  The inside is very moist, and may be the freshest tasting Donette I’ve ever had from Hostess.  This could be the seasonal advantage of buying a limited item close to its release, as the expiration is still six weeks away and I’m reaping the benefits, or it could just be the luck of the draw with this particular batch.

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Is this a better junky nosh than the classic chocolate frosted Donette with the yellow inside? Nope, not for me; but it is a solid limited release that is much more worthy of burning your calories than even some of the standard editions, like Glazed. It’s got that breakfast cereal-y, Sunday morning strawberry pop that you will find either nostalgic or gross, but for $2 on sale at Target it’s hard to go wrong if you find the plump little fake chocolate ‘nuts as comforting and strangely delicious as I do.

Rating: 7/10