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?)

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 2

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.

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 4

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’.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 2

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.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 3

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.*

Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies 2

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.

Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies 3

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!

Keebler Red Velvet Fudge Stripes Cookies 4

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.

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.