REVIEW: French Toast Crunch Cereal (2014)

French Toast Crunch 2015 Return

Let me take you back to 1999 for a few precious moments.

My mother’s silver Ford Windstar was bumping Smashmouth’s “All Star” as she dropped me off at elementary school, where for the next seven hours I’d gloss over lessons in long division and conjunctions in order to run an illicit Pokémon “distribution” center based out of my Star Wars Episode 1 pencil box. Afternoons were spent in the basement with my Sega Genesis (I always was a few years late with the systems) seemingly set in perpetual pause mode as I tried to pass the eighth level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

In the evening, I’d cover my ears when the news came on and Tom Brokaw would tell my parents how the world would end with Y2K approaching. But I still managed to get a very solid nine hours of sleep each night with nothing but sweet, sweet dreams.

Why, you ask? Could it have been the innocence of youth? Or the absence of a soul-sucking job for which I’d have to wake up at 4 a.m. each morning?

Well, yes. But more importantly, it was because of French Toast Crunch.

Sweet, maple syrupy, and crunchy, it was for millions of us the gold standard in breakfast cereals. It might have been the single most dominant reason for relative world peace during the 1990s, and its delicious power to render slurp worthy end-milk allowed countless young Americans to partake in the bone-strengthening but otherwise insipid taste of skim milk.

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But sometime between our blissful ignorance of munching on a bowl box during marathons of ABC’s “One Saturday Morning”, a funny thing happened. The French Toast Crunch we all knew and loved changed. It wasn’t French Toast Crunch anymore. Instead it was a variation of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. As the box artwork and shape of the cereal pieces changed, so did the flavor, and before we knew it, the cereal faded into obscurity.

Until now.

Spurred on by a passionate social media campaign years in the making, General Mills has brought back French Toast Crunch in its original form from the 1990s, returning it to American store shelves after a lengthy exile in Canada.

As some of you may know, I’ve been fortunate enough to have, uh, procured Canadian French Toast Crunch in the not so distant past. I’m indebted to those Canadians who have offered to indulge my inner ten-year-old every now and again, although I’m obligated to point out it’s only fair considering we gave them the greatest cereal of all time and they gave us Nickelback. In any event, the Canadian version of French Toast Crunch is beyond delicious. The question, then, was whether or not the resurrected American version would be equally enjoyable.

Well, I have good news and bad news after tasting the returned version of French Toast Crunch. The bad news is I still don’t think we can turn back time and return Nickelback to Canada and get “One Saturday Morning” back on ABC. The good news? French Toast Crunch is even better than I remember it as a kid with all the crunchy glazed maple syrup goodness you or I could ask for.

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On the off chance you’re either A) An old fart who wouldn’t understand B) Too young to have eaten the original or C) Just have something wrong with you and have never tasted French Toast Crunch, here’s what you’re in for. Little squares of glazed “toast” with an authentic but not overpowering maple flavor, graced with a crunchy corn base with a wonderfully smooth glaze which gives each piece a lickable quality in milk.

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There are undertones of Cap’n Crunch and Quisp in the brown sugar and corn notes, while a Waffle Crisp flavor and crunch persists right down to the finish. Equally enjoyable when eaten as a snack or in a bowl of milk, it is, in two words, quite ideal. Beyond that, I’d likely exhaust the vocabulary of overused descriptive food terms before capturing the quintessence of why this cereal tastes so great.

French Toast Crunch is back, and it’s just as good as it’s ever been. It might not be able to take you physically back to 1999 (only a Flux Capacitor can do that) but set against the backdrop of a YouTube video of your favorite childhood cartoon and a lazy Saturday morning, it’s the next best thing.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup or 28 grams –110 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 150 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.).)

Item: French Toast Crunch Cereal (2014)
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 11.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Even better than I remember it. All the authentic maple qualities of Waffle Crisp with a smooth, glazed surface on each piece which is without equal in cerealdom. Wonderful Quisp-like crispness and slight corn aftertaste. Leaves delicious end-milk even in skim milk. Instantly my new favorite cereal…again.
Cons: Anxiety over sales performance in an already oversatured market. Sleepless night left wondering if this means Oreo O’s will come back too? Not being able to export Nickelback back to Canada.

REVIEW: Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas

Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas

Like a mannequin in New Era Caps or the former major league outfielder Matt Stairs, Julius Pringle might well be called a man of many hats. Between bacon and sriracha, reduced fat and diarrhea-inducing “Fat Free” crisps, he lays claim to a snack food empire with more flavor variations than a Coke Freestyle machine. And while he’s re-released his seasonal Pecan Pie Pringles in time for the holidays, he’s also donned a sombrero just in time to wish you and I a Feliz Navidad.

I speak, of course, of the new Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas. The flavor coincides with the annual need to turn savory into sweet this time each year, joining fellow new limited edition Pringles flavor, milk chocolate, on grocery store shelves.

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Also consistent with the season: the shoddy packaging, which, much like the millions of gifts shipped in oversized containers and without proper padding, tends to leaves the Pringles battered and broken. It’s mitigated somewhat by the more sturdy nature of the tortilla base compared to regular Pringles, but it’s still annoying. Although not as annoying as waking up Christmas morning to a cracked HDTV.

If you’ve ever had the Tortilla Pringles before you know the crisps enjoy a mild corn flavor with an enjoyable but none-too-bold toasted flavor. There’s an earthy note of black beans and a moderate crunch and saltiness, but overall, it’s a crisp that’s not going to offend anyone.

To pick back up on the holiday theme, it’s the kind of crisp that talks about the weather at parties, perhaps munching on a sugar cookie in the corner while smiling pleasantly and staying as far away from the eggnog as possible. God forbid it might sing along to a Bing Crosby song, it instead hums an ambiguous classical note in the background.

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The addition of cinnamon sugar really doesn’t deviate too much from this philosophy. Coating only the “underside” of each crisp, the cinnamon sugar is pretty tame. With no notes of toasted, caramelized sweetness it’s as one-note as cinnamon sugar comes, and feels detached from the corn crisp beneath. It’s kind of a shame, really, because for a brief moment there’s a nice salty-sweet combination that feels natural amongst the tortilla base.

The excitement dissipates quickly though, and like a kid at Christmas who’s just opened up a buttload of wrapped gifts only to find clothes, the anticipation is replaced by a functional reality. In other words? Prepared to have some kind of salsa on hand.

For some reason I thought the Pringles Tortillas Cinnamon Sugar would taste like churros, or at the very least open a new front in the ever chic line of salty-sweet combinations. It manages to hint at the latter, but completely falls short of the former. If nothing else it just provides an adequate and mildly enjoyable corn chip for your holiday get-togethers filled with weather conversations and reduced fat sugar cookies.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz./about 14 crisps – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, less than 3 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas
Purchased Price: $1.50
Size: 6.42 oz. can
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable lightly toasted corn flavor with earthy aftertaste. Lickable cinnamon-sugar coating. Functional tortilla chip not the least bit off-putting.
Cons: Cinnamon sugar coating is only surface deep. Not as salty or bold a corn flavor as Fritos. Chips shatter easily. Aftertaste is kind boring. Christmas morning with twelve new turtlenecks.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Dear Nick,

First off, I hope you don’t mind me using your first name. I figure now that I’m older and no longer writing to you on a yearly basis with my egregious gift requests, we could drop the excessive formalities. Speaking of which, I want you to know I harbor no ill will about my letter dated 5 December 1998. Turns out little girls with Olympic aspirations are much more deserving of a pony than any 10-year old boy trying to recreate a scene from Indiana Jones in his backyard. Besides, horses poop. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with that.

Anyways, I’m writing to you this year as one cookie fiend to another. You should know that when you shimmy down chimneys this year you may not find the usual assortment of gingerbread men, peanut butter Kisses, and snickerdoodles arranged neatly beside a glass of milk. What you might find is a bowl of cereal in milk.

I know. It certainly sounds like an egregious attempt to circumvent the spirit of Christmas Eve, or at the very least a cabal by concerned parents trying to teach their children a lesson about saturated fat intake. I also had many reservations. But you, Nick, are more familiar with the inexplicable magic of the season than most, so it should come as no surprise to the man who guides his sled by flying reindeer that cereals can transform into cookies.

How else can you explain a transformation that defies reason? Not to mention evidence that bakeshop-inspired cereals suck.

But this cereal doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty freaking good. While looking the same as 2012’s less than memorable Frosted Toast Crunch, Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is much better. And it’s a worthy substitute for fresh baked cookies in your Christmas Eve travels. And believe me, Nick, I’m a certified expert when it comes to sugar cookies, thanks mostly to the complimentary sugar cookies offered at the Harris Teeter store they opened on our street about a year ago. (Side note: You won’t be putting me on the naughty list for taking more than one on each visit, will you?)

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But back to the cereal, or should I say the mini sugar cookies, because that’s what each one of these little squares taste like. They have a lighter texture on the tongue than the other cereals of the Toast Crunch family, but keep that delightful crisp exterior, which in this case glistens with specks of superfine sugar that mirror freshly fallen snow.

There’s a Frosted Flakes taste going on when you eat the squares dry. It’s not cloying and there isn’t any hint of the toasted richness French Toast Crunch used to have, but there’s something about the crispy texture and vanilla flavor of the sugar which inexplicably registers as sugar cookie. It’s as if, by some commutative property of Christmas magic, the essence of whatever makes a sugar cookie a sugar cookie and not, say, a snickerdoodle, has been extracted and sprinkled over each square.

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I know you’re not one to eat cookies without milk, and the good news for you (and me) is that Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch tastes amazing in milk. The combination of sugar and milk creates an instant flavor of royal icing, and leaves a rich and sweet end milk which should be bottled and sold. Come to think of that, maybe I’ll add that to my Christmas wish list.

Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch isn’t perfect, Nick. It’s still not as great as Frosted Toast Crunch, and I personally still love Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chocolate Toast Crunch better. But when it comes to recreating a cookie taste, don’t be so quick to pass over a bowl left out this Christmas Eve. I think you’ll find it’s worth a few presents in some kid’s stocking. Oh yeah, and please send me a pony.

Sincerely,

Adam

(Nutrition Facts – 31 grams – 130 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Weis Markets
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good representation of sugar cookie flavor. Light and crispy texture plain, with a Frosted Flakes-like aftertaste. Not too sweet. Sucks up milk like a fat man in a red suit. Better than Frosted Toast Crunch. Leaves sugar cookie end milk.
Cons: Still not French Toast Crunch. Possibly laced with Christmas magic dust. Lacks buttery crumb. Still not getting a pony.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 1

I remember the first time I heard the name Dominique Ansel and something called a Cronut.

Shortly after learning she he was not a member of an Eastern European figure skating team, I decided that the SoHo, New York pastry chef was a freaking genius. Aside from the fact his combination of flaky, buttery croissant and yeasty, sugary donut may have been the most effective joint American-French venture since the Revolutionary War, the Cronut struck me as the perfect marriage of taste and texture with kitchen science and dedicated craftsmanship. Sonnets, I suppose, will one day be written on the cultural significance of the Cronut—an amazing feat, really, considering its relative isolation in New York City.

Well, that is, until now. Okay, so technically calling this 24-layers of fried, buttery dough a “Cronut” is incorrect, and, if you want to go all chronological on me, even national grocery stores like Safeway have been making Cronut knockoffs for the better part of 2014. But let’s not forget this is Dunkin’ Donuts. We run on this stuff, America, and if there’s one chain that can bring even a hint of Ansel’s epic creation to every corner of small towns and overcrowded suburbs, it’s Dunkin’.

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The Croissant Donut I received was far from a geometric wonder. It’s not quite hexagonal enough to suggest complete machine creation and it’s missing the characteristic rounded edges of a typical donut. I would settle on a shape somewhere between “askew” and “jacked up.” Nonetheless, it smelled of the trademark Dunkin’ glaze. And it’s served in an adorable little container, which exhibits a sense of uniqueness.

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I’ve always struggled with counting, but after cutting into the faux Cronut, I’m fairly sure there weren’t 24 unique and verifiable layers of buttery dough. All that said, I wasn’t too disappointed, mostly because the taste was very enjoyable. Yes, I said it: enjoyable. Maybe not the purported earth-shattering taste of Ansel’s original Cronut, but certainly better than the multiple grocery store imitators I’ve tried.

The interior dough has a moist, but light texture, like an actual croissant. It also certainly tastes like one. The interior layers, while not distinctively laminated in true pastry fashion, still gave an excellent contrast to the crunchy and ridged fried exterior, which was altogether more substantial than a typical donut. I liked that there was some heft to the Croissant Donut, which was far less airy and collapsible than the otherwise pipsqueak-sized regular Dunkin’ glazed donuts.

With all that said, I can see how it probably wouldn’t impress those lucky enough to have an actual Cronut. The glaze flavor is a classic touch, but the single-flavor fails to capitalize on a host of sweet croissant fillings, while coming across as overpriced and, yes, mass-produced. There was a part of me which wanted more distinctiveness in the interior layers, wishing for a truly pick-apart dough which was layered with chocolate or marzipan or any number of fillings.

Still, there’s no use covering up the fact that I really enjoyed Dunkin’s take on Ansel’s now-iconic Cronut. While I do think the mass-produced version is a buck too expensive and could be improved by adding flavor variations, there is something to be said for simplicity and accessibility. No, I’m sure it’ll never compare to the original award-winning Cronut, but Dunkin’ Donut’s Croissant Donut exhibits a great balance in texture and flavor and gives us non-New Yorkers something new and exciting to run on.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Croissant Donut – 300 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Better than grocery store Cronut imitators. Moist interior dough has authentic buttery taste. Crunchy outside glaze provides great textural contrast. Feels and tastes more substantial than a regular donut. Available in suburbia without a long wait.
Cons: Interior lacks optimal flakiness. Generic glazed donut sweetness limits appeal. No guarantee of freshness. No way in hell it’s only 300 calories.

REVIEW: Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies

Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies

Like Salted Caramel, Maple Bacon, and Sriracha, Red Velvet is a food trend which will not go away until it’s been flavorized into every edible object this side of gluten-free dog treats. While I’m quite positive this has driven some of you mad, I’m more than willing to accept and embrace this necessary step in flavor evolution.

Sneer all you want about how diet yogurts and Pop-Tarts can never match the mellow cocoa flavoring and rich cream cheese frosting of an actual slice of homemade Red Velvet Cake, but unless you possess a time machine allowing you to conveniently travel back to the 1930s or 1940s, I’m going to call you out as just another fan of the latest bastardization of the classic southern cake.

And you know what? I’m totally cool with that, just like I’m totally cool with the idea of the Keebler Elves adapting their classic Fudge Stripe cookies to Red Velvet. These are magical elves, after all, and there are far worse food trends they could be adapting for cookie construction.*

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At first glance, the fudge stripe template seems a curious choice to adapt Red Velvet to. Fudge is supposed to be dense, super chocolaty, and for lack of a better word, fudgy.

Meanwhile, even bastardized conceptions of Red Velvet carry a certain connotation of a light cake crumb and more restrained cocoa flavor. But when you think about it, good old Ernest J. Keebler’s reasoning checks out. Not nearly as iconic at E.L. Fudge yet distinct enough from your garden-variety Chips Deluxe, the Fudge Stripe begs for a makeover, or at the very least a new twist on the contrast of artificial chocolate glaze and crisp shortbread.

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If nothing else, the little men slaving away in those treehouse factories certainly craft an aesthetically pleasing product. Lined in a perfect row of red and white, as if drizzled with a cream cheese and buttercream fondant by skillful elfish hands, the cookies look appetizing enough to devour in one fell swoop. It’s a thought not completely unrealistic, if only for the obsolescent non-resealable packaging. Really, Ernest J.? You’ve created a magical factory in a tree capable of mass producing cookies yet you can’t prevent my cookies from going stale? Priorities man, priorities!

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The white coating is predictably waxy—the kind of artificial, “look that’s going to be your arteries!” stuff that we’ve been told to avoid, but still secretly love. At first, it’s slow to yield a distinct flavor, but after several licks and precise, tiny bites, the faux-glaze takes on a unique flavor. I’m reminded quite a bit of the yogurt coating of the raisins in one of my favorite cereals (Basic 4—completely underrated) but also pick up a hypersweet note of white chocolate and an element of cream cheese.

Beneath the glaze is the shortbread cocoa cookie. Crunchy with a superfine crumb, there’s both a distinct mellow cocoa element but also a deeper and richer chocolate flavor. You won’t mistake it for dark chocolate, but sure enough, the semisweet chocolate listed on the ingredient list makes itself known, giving each cookie an over-the-top chocolate flavor which pairs wonderfully with cream cheese glaze.

I have to admit though, there’s an odd acidity in these cookies which tempers the chocolate; a sensation which makes me almost pucker. Sharp to a point but still very sweet, there really is a distinct Red Velvet flavor that goes well beyond just mellow cocoa and red food coloring. Truth be told it’s sort of unexpected (who ever heard of a crunchy Red Velvet cake, for one thing!), yet somehow satisfyingly addictive. One might, when considering the hands which built it, even call it magical.

I wasn’t expecting to like the Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies as much as I did. I know, I know. Who am I to doubt whatever source of supernatural craftsmanship guides the Keebler elves. Yet lulled to sleep by countless Red Velvet flavor imposters, my expectations were dimmed, so much so that when one of the most accurate representations of the flavor in mass produced form graced my lips, I was blown away. Red Velvet Oreos, you ask? I’m not holding my breath just yet, because as far as I’m concerned Ernest J. and the magical elves have crafted a near-perfect Red Velvet cookie.

*Kale, for instance.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 11.5 oz.
Purchased at: Mars Grocery Stores
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE RED VELVET. Mellow cocoa crumb. Unexpected chocolate depth. Addictively complex cream cheese/buttercream/white chocolate glaze. Needed makeover for a classic cookie.
Cons: Possibility of Red Velvet flavored gluten-free dog treats. Seventeenth century cookie packaging. Will turn your arteries into waxy faux cream cheese filling.