REVIEW: Häagen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 1

A recent sojourn down the freezer aisles at Walmart has left me entirely convinced that the ice cream industry lays claim to some of the most linguistically appealing words. Take gelato, for example. Or better yet, Häagen-Dazs.

The way the words roll off the tongue with that seductive and sophisticated air is enough to sway a health nut away from the coarse offering of the produce department, or even a cash-strapped college student away from the economical tractor-beam that is the cereal aisle. Frosted Flakes, you say? Froot Loops? Please, mere alliteration and assonance cannot compare.

Perhaps this was the siren song which led me to Häagen-Dazs’ new line of Gelato Bars. As if transfixed by the mere sound alone, repeated in Neapolitan prose of some great poet (or at least Giada De Laurentiis) the tiramisu flavor was beyond by capacity to pass up.

Tiramisu seems to be a natural flavor choice for a gelato bar. Obviously the name alone fits in with the ethos of cultured European desserts, but the flavors, too, lend themselves to gelato. At first I was a bit skeptical; there’s a lot going on in tiramisu. Between the custard element and the coffee flavor to the not-too-tangy richness of the mascarpone cheese, it’s a lot to pack into bar form. And pack it they do.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 3

Each bar comes in this totally adorable sleeve, enrobed with a white patchwork pattern gracing the dark chocolate shell. It’s enough to make even the most dude of dudes want to go “awe, it looks like a little tuxedoed ice cream bar!” I may or may not have done this, but regardless, you get the point. Looks count when you’re paying more than a dollar a bar, and Häagen-Dazs gets it.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 4

The dark chocolate shell is exquisite. Yes, I believe exquisite is the right word. It’s bittersweet and smooth, with none of that off-putting metallic aftertaste some shells have. It holds its shape extremely well, yielding a slow melt and rounded flavor. I do wish the white patchwork drizzle had a bit more white chocolate flavor, but I became so engrossed in this dark chocolate shell that I can forgive what amounted to little more than ornamentation.

One often wonders about the texture of gelato, which although it claims no labeling standard in this country, is regarded as having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream. In this case, though, the coffee-flavored gelato beneath the shell tastes both rich and sweet, with an authentic light-roast flavor which co-habitates wonderfully with the dark chocolate.

There’s an extra element there too. It’s hard to define, even after scouring a veritable Google search of taste-inspired vocabulary words. It’s nonetheless smooth in texture and indulgent in flavor, inspiring a cream cheese appeal without any of the stabilizing weirdness of actual cream cheese. This I can only assume is the mascarpone element combined with the egg yolk-fortified custard. I admit my lack of actual time spent enjoying real tiramisu in cafes amidst the Venato region of Italy may leave a feeling of doubt about my authority to claim this, but having had a crush on Giada and watched her shows for the better part of the time I decided girls no longer had cooties, I feel I do have some expertise in this matter.

All that being said, I can’t quite break into a Dean Martin rendition of “That’s Amore,” if only because the bar can’t fully complete the tiramisu flavor. There’s just no ladyfinger element, and given that one of the other flavors of the bar sticks freaking Pizzelle cookie pieces in the chocolate shell, I feel like I’m being shortchanged.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 5

When you think about it, the effect is really more affogato than tiramisu, although the latter is certainly more recognizable. Plus, and this would have been much more annoying on a summer day, the gelato base is more viscous than regular ice cream, and ends up exploding out of the shell if you’re not careful in eating the shell from top down.

Häagen-Dazs Gelato Bars definitely live up to their billing as sophisticated frozen desserts. With a rich coffee and mascarpone flavor and exquisitely smooth dark chocolate shell they’re worth their price tag, even if they inspire more of an affogato flavor than tiramisu. I only wish there was some kind of ladyfinger cookie or biscuit element involved, which would really push these bars into must-buy territory.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 270 calories, 160 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Häagen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 3 bars/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Exceptional dark chocolate flavor in the shell. Tastes super rich. Coffee flavor is light and sweet. Notes of mascarpone and custard. Pronouncing foreign words.
Cons: No ladyfinger element. Outside lace doesn’t add more than ornamentation. Gelato base melts quickly once the integrity of the shell is broken. An awesome source of saturated fat.

REVIEW: Chobani Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt and Yoplait Limited Edition Pumpkin Cheesecake Greek Yogurt

Chobani Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt and Yoplait Limited Edition Pumpkin Cheesecake Greek Yogurt

Sometime between the introduction of Trix-flavored Go-Gurt and the advent of yogurt with poop-inducing bacteria, I lost all capacity to keep up with what is particularly trendy when it comes to fermented dairy. Kefir, you say? You mean that guy from 24? Call me overwhelmed, but I just don’t quite understand it all.

You know what I do understand? Pumpkin.

In donuts. In ice cream. In waffles and in cookies and, by George, this flavor actually works on a Pringle! And while I’ve yet to encounter the rumored Pumpkin Spice Burger the release of two new pumpkin-flavored Greek yogurts is enough to piqué my interest to an otherwise flabbergasting catalogue of yogurt types and flavors.

First up is Chobani, which has actually had a rough go of it in 2014. Banned by Russia for the Olympics and later accused of being Turkish, Chobani’s Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt holds the distinction of having actual pumpkin in the ingredient list, something that seemingly 90 percent of pumpkin-flavored goodies seem to be missing in what is becoming the most oversaturated single-product market since Pokémon cards.

Not to be outdone, Yoplait’s Pumpkin Cheesecake also features real pumpkin puree, in addition to the one-up mention of everyone’s other favorite cultured dairy dessert. I know what you’re thinking; cheesecake beats spice every time, right? But let’s not forget both these yogurts are of the 2 percent variety, and claim actual sugar to sweeten the deal. Pumpkin, milkfat, sugar? Seems like neither can go wrong.

Chobani Pumpkin Spice

If pumpkin spice is your deal—as in, you’re one of those people who carries around your own Williams-Sonoma Pumpkin Spice canister to dump on EVERYTHING—you’re going to love the Chobani rendition. All the usual spices are present, but it’s their intensity—as if fresh grated nutmeg and ginger were added just minutes before packaging—which is most striking.

The cinnamon has a floral quality rising above cheaper imitations, and the strong ginger notes give the flavor an exotic appeal. Still, the flavor seems incomplete. There’s an absence of vanilla that would otherwise bring the flavors together, and a quiet sweetness bemoans the decision not to go with a more intense brown sugar sweetness. The texture, too, is imperfect. More jiggly than creamy, with a hint of surface water, it lacks a degree of richness which otherwise would have gone a long way to making it one of the early highlights of pumpkin season.

Yoplait’s Pumpkin Cheesecake is a different gourd, but not completely. Call it a Kabocha Squash to your typical Sugar Pumpkin, if you will. The texture is actually remarkably similar to the Chobani flavor. A bit more prone to breaking into multiple blobs of orangish yogurt, but still reacting with a jiggly effect when prodded by spoon (or finger, I don’t judge).

Yoplait Pumpkin Cheesecake

I take a bite, hoping to be greeted by a rich and creamery fresh taste not unlike that Baskin-Robbin ice cream, but instead I’m left with a somewhat artificial spice flavor and odd acidic aftertaste. It’s not altogether unenjoyable because the yogurt base is sweeter and the pumpkin flavor more intense than the Chobani yogurt, but it still leaves something to be desired. The cheesecake flavor seems more buttermilk inspired than cream cheese, but unlike the Chobani Pumpkin Spice, there’s a more familiar dessert-inspired flavor. The sweetness sure isn’t lacking, and together with a robust pumpkin flavor, it’s more versatile to use as a dip or in smoothies.

Neither Chobani’s Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice nor Yoplait’s Pumpkin Cheesecake flavors blew me away, although the freshness of the pumpkin spice flavor in the Chobani yogurt might be the most authentic rendition I’ve had to date. But the problems for both yogurts are unfortunately all too familiar for the seasonally-inspired treat. Too little brown sugar sweetness and not enough richness leave the pumpkin exposed to blandness, and despite the addition of milkfat, the texture of both yogurts doesn’t conjure up images of dessert. I may not be hip to the latest fads in yogurt, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume adding pumpkin won’t be the next big thing.

(Nutrition Facts – Chobani Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice – 130 calories, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 60 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, and 15% calcium. Yoplait Limited Edition Pumpkin Cheesecake – 150 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 75 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of sugar, 11 grams of protein, and 10% calcium.)

Item: Chobani Limited Batch Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt
Purchased Price: $1.39
Size: 5.3 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Remarkably fresh and flavorful combination of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Contains actual pumpkin. Good source of protein and calcium. Sticking it to comrade Putin.
Cons: Not quite sweet enough to really showcase the pumpkin flavor. Lacks richness or creamy taste. Questionable country of origin.

Item: Yoplait Limited Edition Pumpkin Cheesecake Greek Yogurt
Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: 5.3 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Sweet and authentic pumpkin flavor. Has a cheesecake tang. Tastes like dessert.
Cons: Jiggles more than a fat guy’s triceps. Gloopy. Spice flavor is artificial. More calories and less protein than Chobani.

REVIEW: Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream

Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream

Since the dawn of civilization cheesecake and pie have been wrestling in a titanic struggle of after-dinner supremacy. No flavor or ingredient has been off limits. From plump summer blueberries to decadent combinations of chocolate and peanut butter, the two desserts have been firing salvos at each other for years

Thanks to an urban chic food trend in embracing American comfort food, pie seems to have delivered most of the damage (calorically, of course) in recent years. It’s even become part of our lexicon, practically becoming synonymous with all things Americana and just damn yummy. That’s not to say cheesecake hasn’t had some good showings, but with fall dawning on us and Dairy Queen doing double-duty with seasonally themed Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie Blizzards, it’s going to take more than a proverbial trip to The Cheesecake Factory to steal some of the glory.

Fortunately, Baskin-Robbins is fighting back, indulging my love for both pumpkin and cheesecake with September’s Flavor of the Month. With both a cream cheese ribbon and cheesecake ice cream base it covers almost enough dairy as a Wisconsin 4-H fair, adding gingersnap cookie pieces which promise to add a bit of crunch and crust to the pumpkin ice cream.

That’s right, pumpkin. Not “pumpkin flavored,” and not just orange color with some vague spice flavor, the ice cream base nails an authentic pumpkin taste buttressed by a wonderfully autumnal sweetness and cinnamon spice. Bordering on cloying but thankfully neither earthly nor artificial, its distinct brown sugar notes are balanced by the taste of fresh cream and milk. It’s that taste which keeps the base from the heavy connotation pumpkin pie sometimes conjures up, and despite what I’m sure is a veritable calorie overload thanks to no less than 11 different sweeteners in the recipe, a modest-sized cone isn’t enough to make you want to unbuckle your pants and watch Tony Romo throw six interceptions on Thanksgiving.

Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream 2

The cheesecake flavor is really quite splendid, and I mean this in the most endearing way possible. Despite a fascistic ONE SCOOP FOR YOU policy instituted by my local Baskin-Robbins, a thorough probing (also known as licking) of the base reveals a well-integrated cream cheese ribbon with varying degrees of tang and richness.

There’s a smooth mouthfeel throughout, and no sign of the chalky or gritty “cheesecake” chunks that one sometimes finds in frozen yogurt shops. On two separate swipes on the tongue I caught a burst of tang, which illuminated my palette amidst the sweet cream high. It encompasses both a distinctive cheesecake vibe and indulgent cream cheese texture, and together the two elements of cultured dairy work magnificently.

Insofar as flavor is concerned, the gingersnap pieces aren’t bad—the distinct taste of ginger adds a great balancing depth to the sweetness of the ice cream—but the crushed snaps aren’t exactly crust worthy. With a soggy texture and almost no crunch to speak of, they’re actually kind of lost amidst the overly viscous ice cream, which seems especially prone to melting on even a modestly warm fall day.

Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream 3

Actually, my biggest gripe was the deteriorating texture of the ice cream. While it starts off exceptionally creamy and smooth, it doesn’t hold up to the tongue and quickly melts, leaving one with less with the impression of pumpkin ice cream and more with the notion of chilled pumpkin bisque. It’s enough to make me kind of wish I was getting pie.

Is Baskin-Robbins’ Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream enough to deal a game-changing victory in the war between pie and cheesecake? Not quite, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious or seasonally appropriate. With a no-nonsense pumpkin flavor and distinctive cheesecake richness and tang, it definitely fires the first shots in this year’s fall flavor battle.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 oz scoop – 260 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of sodium, 135 milligrams of cholesterol, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $3.39
Size: Regular Scoop
Purchased at: Baskin-Robbins
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Pumpkin cream cheese base has loads of cinnamon and brown sugar flavor. Avoids gritty fake cheesecake pieces. Gingersnap crumbs contribute good spice. Nice bursts of cheesecake tang. A solid showing by team cheesecake in the never-ending battle of desserts. Thank God I’m not a Cowboys fan.
Cons: Gingersnap pieces aren’t very crunchy and get lost amidst the ice cream base. Melts entirely too quickly. Feeling like Oliver Twist as the Baskin-Robbins employee haphazardly scoops my ice cream.

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies

The Milano cookie has always been something of an enigma for me. With its elegant yet simple design and name conjuring images of the Italian Alps, it was beyond my childhood capacity of appreciation. Later in life, after I had graduated from a packaged cookie diet consisting entirely of Oreos and Chips Ahoy, Milanos still perplexed me. A dense yet slightly chewy crumb and buttery but dark chocolate flavor pointed toward a cookie on its own plane, distinct and unabashedly unique from every other prepackaged treat.

Oh yes, and terribly delicious.

It goes without saying that we expect much from Milano cookies. When you nail the chocolate flavor better than 95 percent of the competitors, I think expectations are a given. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but wonder if that sophisticated edge would translate with the addition of pumpkin spice. It’s one thing to pair mint and raspberry with chocolate, but when you start playing matchmaker with chocolate and the sometimes ambiguous concoction of fall spices, the results aren’t always so endearing.

Examining the bag confirmed my initial skepticism, as there’s no mention of pumpkin or the usual suspects of cinnamon or brown sugar in the ingredients. Nevertheless the orange lip representing pumpkin appeared on each cookie, while an unmistakably pumpkiny aroma danced from the open bag in perfect step with aromas of shortbread and chocolate.

It’s really a scintillating aroma, one with notes of pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin loaf cake supporting the dance. Actually, it’s so great I nearly passed out of asphyxiation due to a prolonged moment of sticking my schnoz right into the bag and failing to breath anything but the glorious smell of autumn.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 2

The orange “cream”—for want of a better word—is thin and slightly viscous, with a texture somewhere between cream cheese on a hot day and the filling they stick inside those stacked wafer cookies. Tasting it from the lip of the cookie, it comes across as a less intense version of Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese, right on down to a slightly artificial flavor that seems a bit too quiet for fall’s most iconic squash.

Artificial flavor aside, there’s a pleasantly light sweetness and lickable texture that leaves me wanting more. The problem is there really isn’t much more to be had. Even though the chocolate-to-pumpkin filling ratio is about 1:1, the pumpkin finishes a distant third in its impact. The filling and the spice together are enough to let you know we’re talking pumpkin and not just cinnamon-flavored cookies, but the milk chocolate filling and scrumptious cookie base seem unwilling to let the pumpkin intrude on their synergy.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 3

It’s been my experience through a quarter century of pumpkin eating that pumpkin is a very jealous flavor. It just doesn’t like playing second fiddle, much less third string. Yet in the distinct and careful balance of buttery cookie crumb and rich chocolate taste the pumpkin seems an awkward third wheel, attractive enough to want on its own, but not enough for either of the other two elements of the cookie to commit to.

It’s as if the cookie and the chocolate know what they have together, and while tempted by the pumpkin’s autumnal notes, neither flavor wants to commit to the newcomer over its tried and true other half. My God, it now occurs to me as I polish off another cookie, I have just described a twisted escapade of cookie love.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 4

The sophisticated chocolate taste and buttery crumb native to all Milanos make the Pumpkin Spice Milano flavor unique and tasty. Yet for such a trendsetting cookie the pumpkin spice flavor doesn’t come through enough to make it a distinctively pumpkin product, while the hints of an attractive and creamy texture mitigate it to an awkward role player. As for that role, it’s just not cast right, and despite a promising beginning and intoxicating aroma, the Pumpkin Spice Milanos failed to make me fall in love with their take on the seasonal flavor.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 130 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 7 ounces
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Quite possibly one of the most enjoyable smelling cookies in creation. Buttery Milano cookie. Rich milk chocolate flavor. Pumpkin flavored “cream” is slightly reminiscent of pumpkin cream cheese. That feeling you get when you buy Milanos.
Cons: Too little pumpkin filling. Slightly artificial pumpkin spice “cream.” Third wheel flavors. Death by cookie bag. Nineteenth century packaging of Milano cookies.

REVIEW: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's

At what point should we start to be concerned that the usually delicious array of autumnal-inspired treats and sweets are becoming a victim of their own lofty standards?

Up until recently I was inclined to say never. I mean, when unlikely superstars like Pumpkin Pie Pringles and Candy Corn Oreo augment standbys like apple cider donuts and pumpkin spice cookies, fall products have earned a reputation as reliable as the leaves hitting the ground each September and October. It’s part of what makes this time of the year so special for food lovers, and no doubt the reason Walmarts and Targets everywhere rush in the latest creations of mass-produced seasonality earlier and earlier each year.

Now though, I’m not so sure if every apple or pumpkin product will be a hit. My doubts started last year with the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, and have been confirmed by the new Candy Apple M&M’s.

That’s right; even graced by the seductive presence of a high risk spokeswoman, there’s nothing particularly memorable or sexy about the new Candy Apple M&M’s. And there’s definitely nothing candy apple or autumnal about the flavor.

It shouldn’t have been this way. On first inspection, it sounds like a brilliant idea; the perfect marriage of cloyingly sweet and sticky hard shell coating and mellow milk chocolate paired with the prerequisite cinnamon spice for depth and artificial apple tartness for, well, tartness. Dare I say, they could have even thrown some caramel in there, and heck, why not peanuts? Granted it’s difficult to execute the ultimate nightmare for dentists in something less than the size of a quarter, but c’mon, this is M&M’s people. I mean, they stuck a friggin’ pretzel between chocolate and shell. That’s like sending a man to the moon compared with developing the simple flavors of a candy apple.

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's Closeup

Alas, it was not to be. The only things vaguely reminiscent of a candy apple in these M&M’s are the color and shape. Upon first taste a vague notion of cinnamon spice, more reminiscent of hot cinnamon candies than tart Granny Smith encased in hardened syrup, inhabits the candy coating. At least, I think its cinnamon. Come to think of it, maybe its clove, or perhaps nutmeg or ginger. Yes, that’s it, nutmeg and ginger. Almost nonexistent in intensity but there nonetheless, like the imaginary friend I sat with at the lunch table in second grade.

You heard me, imaginary friend.

I pop another M&M in my mouth and I’m starting to question if that cinnamon taste was ever really there, just as I questioned why Teddy my old chum at Rockhill Elementary wouldn’t trade me his Dunkaroos for my carrot sticks (I never did get an answer.) Allowing the M&M to dissolve into a familiar if not pedestrian chocolate flavor, I’m suddenly left with the taste of nothing more than that mild chocolate. Don’t get me wrong; chocolate is great and all (hey, maybe even good for me!) but as I finish the M&M I can’t pick up anything unique or different about these from standard M&M’s. Like the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s there really isn’t much going on here; just chocolate and shell and maybe a little bit of artificial vanilla flavor, combining with that sort of waxy debris of chewed-up M&M that sticks in the nooks and crannies around your molars.

I don’t think I’ve been as frustrated in a fall food product since, well, ever. The worst part about the Candy Apple M&M’s is that they speak to what has really been a series of mediocre limited edition flavors. I’m not just talking about last year’s Pumpkin Spice duds, but also the Red Velvet flavor, and some of the other seasonal spinoffs which seem more package art than taste sensations. Altogether, it’s a disturbing trend for a candy that has had great success with iconic flavors like Mint and Peanut Butter. But perhaps it’s a needed reminder that not every fall-themed sweet can live up to expectations.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Classic M&M’s taste and texture in slightly larger form. Only ten calories per M&M, as opposed to hundreds in an actual candy apple. Always enjoyable M&M’s commercials.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like a candy apple in the least. No tart flavor of apple or sticky sweetness of coating. M&M’s fragments stuck in your molars. Attempted seduction by a chocolate candy. Imaginary friends.