REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I love festivals.

I can’t help it.

I haven’t encountered a pig race, funhouse, or merry-go-round I don’t enjoy. Bring on your strong man contests, your ring tosses, your wooden roller coasters of questionable integrity. Why, between the bells, balloon animals, and clinkity clank music, there’s enough joy here to make a circus look like a film noir.

So it should come of no surprise that I was drawn to these Hostess Caramel Apple Cupcakes. I always, always, always make a moment of having caramel apples at Fall Festivals. I once consumed five of them before going into the corn maze, where I proceeded to get lost for three hours…BUT I survived! All credit goes to caramel apples.

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes 2

Out of the gate, these cupcakes are lookin’ fine. There are smells of cider, crackles of caramel frosting, and red squiggles, all squished in an authentic “I got shipped in a truck and thrown on a shelf” way. Everything is perfect. Resistance is futile.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is one peculiar cupcake. It’s admirably different, in its own pudgy, small, charming way. There’s the spongy, floury cake, which has bits of woodsy, warm cinnamon and some sort of tanginess that feels like a moderate hint-and-nudge toward the apple, although it speaks more toward a blend of the formerly mentioned cider and melted Jolly Ranchers.

Next up to bat is the crackly top glaze, which tastes of honey and caramel and molasses and vanilla and the burnt top of crème brulée all smooshed together. It’s like an unpaid syrup-harvesting intern got lost in the woods and decided to mix all the sugars. It’s confusing and brilliant, much like interns themselves.

And then there’s the caramel filling. In a color that’s not nearly as terrifyingly brown as the cover portrays, it seems Hostess has repurposed the light, extremely sugary caramel fluff from the Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes and smashed it in here. Fluffy and sugar-forward, this stuff is less discreet than a mammoth in the knitting aisle. Its strong blast of Cool-Whip-like sugariness levels out the cinnamon of the cake quite nicely. Between these fluffy insides and the caramel-frosted top, caramel becomes the star of the show.

Just one thing: what happened to the apple?? Sure, there was that Jolly Rancher cider thing, but it came without chunks. It came without dices. It came without nibbles, pieces, or slices. What a tragedy. The cake could’ve benefited from a Hulk smash of tart apples. Even real applesauce or apple juice would do. This hint of flavoring? Would make an apple-loving Hulk cry. Don’t make Hulk cry!

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes 3

But let us not dwell on the tears of giants. As it seems to go, the simplest pattern for my enjoying something usually goes 2 moments of curiosity + 1 dose lack of self-control x 8 tons of the positive or negative feedback on tastiness, and these? Are good. The cake is soft and cinnamony, the crackly frosted top stays true to its caramel name, and the inner frosting is a delicious, crazy sweet fluff, and, if you close your eyes and make a wish, it all has a slight echo of something apple-y (although you have to wish really, really hard). Can these be a little too sweet sometimes? Are they a little unbalanced? Would I like to see more apples? Sure, but, on the whole, these cupcakes are peculiar and delightful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat five of them and go find a corn maze I can get lost in.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 1 box/8 cakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Soft, cinnamony cake. Crackly caramel frosting top. Fluffy, sweet insides. Syrup-harvesting interns gone amok. Corn mazes. Roller coasters of questionable integrity.
Cons: Where be the apples, yo? Questionable presence of “Hydrogenated beef tallow.” May make Hulk cry. Getting lost in a corn maze for three hours.

REVIEW: Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Ah, summertime.

Nothing but pool parties and crickets and Christmas in July, and, while I know I’m supposed to celebrate the mid-summer Noel on the 25th, I am a rebel, hooligan, and all-around dastardly naysayer, so it should come as no surprise that I broke all the Christmas laws and bought my present the day after.

It involved churros. I have no regrets.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 2

Krispy Kreme’s interpretation of the churro starts by going geometrically rogue, translating the fried delight from the commonly seen line into a circumference more tightly braided than Wednesday’s pigtails sent through a Glam Twirl.

The doughnut’s hefty for its size, coming doused with so much cinnamon sugar, one could ball it up and use it as sculpting clay to recreate the Sagrada Familia in edible form. And that mahogany-tinted sugar thwacks into action with cinnamon roll-like warmth, dodging the common flaw in which a cinnamon product ends up tasting like an Atomic Fireball. Instead, bites dissipate into sugary, lightly cinnamon-spiced crumbles, leaving a trace of grease behind.

That isn’t to say the doughnuts are perfect. There’s definitely a “Manufactured cake doughnut” quality to them that makes me think they put them in some Dyson vacuum dehydrator that sucks the moisture out of all that is joy. As a result, the doughnuts taste dry and a little stale, missing out on the eggy, custardy texture of a churro and its crispy, freshly fried outside.

But perhaps that’s nitpicking. Heck, even the leftovers aren’t too shabby if you get creative. Put one in the toaster and witness how it becomes a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart crossed with a giant piece of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which means tonight’s dinner of doughnuts and ice cream is all sorted out.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 3

Some days, the world is unbearable. Today? Is not one of those days. Sure, this doughnut may not hold up to Statler and Waldorf’s orthodox standards of traditional churros, but what is a traditional churro? Is it eggy or airy? Custardy or crumbly? Dense or light? With cinnamon sugar? Without? Dipped in chocolate? Dipped in frosting? Dipped in nothing? Do I get them at a bar in Spain? A sidewalk vendor? Disneyland? A kazoo store?

Survey says: whichever version you love!

And while this interpretation may just be a dry-ish cake doughnut that’s been doused in cinnamon sugar, I enjoyed all 51 grams of it, especially when topped, toasted, or dunked in coffee or ice cream, so pull out the eggnog and let the Charlie Brown Christmas album play because Christmas in July comes but once a year. Let’s celebrate.

(Nutrition Facts – 190 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Krispy Kreme
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Cakey. Chunked with cinnamon sugar. Does not taste like Atomic Fireball. Even better when toasted. Christmas in July. Glam Twirl. Statler and Waldorf.
Cons: Cake doughnut masquerading as churro. Pretty dry. A little too crumbly. May encourage breaking Christmas laws. Non-July Christmas is still six months away.

REVIEW: Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies

Science!

It is long-winded!

What with its Bunsen burners, vacuum filters, and radioactive delocalized atoms, science can leave even the most educated scratching their heads about what in the world C12H22O11 is. Indeed, the mere mention of the periodic table can transform the average-and-everyday into the daunting, ruthless, and unfamiliar.

But, as I learned the time I used physics to whack open a piñata while bouncing on a trampoline, just because science can be unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes one must use science to venture into the unknown. Must harness it to go where no one has gone. Must employ it to take up fly-fishing, win at Ping-Pong, or do the moonwalk in polka-dotted boxer shorts. As humans, we must push, pull, challenge, wring, and wrestle so that we may grow. Science can help us do this.

And sometimes this integration of science involves transforming a fluffy, frosted loaf into blushing ursidae-shaped confectionary. Such is the case with these Project 7 gummies, which dare to take on birthday cake as the inspiration for their squishy bears. But will science follow through? And, if so, will it serve us better? Or will we be consumed by gelatinous radioactive sludge? Fire up the atomizer. We’re diving in.

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies 2

Well, pull out your shades and put on your blinders ‘cause these bears tumble out with a red-pink hue that’d rival Kirby eating strawberries in a Hello Kitty Store. The gummies smell quite unique, wavering between whiffs of vanilla Jell-O, pound cake, and, oddly enough, that first moment one walks into a Laser Tag room when the fog machine is at full blast. Special effect smells aside, the bears are soft, squishy, and with their massive googly eyes, likely to both inspire and scare the living daylights out of you.

You wanted your birthday cake chocolate? Strawberry? Coffee caramel with marshmallow fluff? This terrain is not for you. Soft and stretchy with a hint of Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Cake, these bears are straight up vanilla. Nothing more. Nothing less. The bears start with a sweet, saccharine sugar spike that mellows out into the mellow vanilla. It’s not too exciting, but definitely pleasant enough in a humble, uncomplicated way. There’s even a certain brightness at the end, probably from the 100 percent vitamin C they’ve crammed into ‘em. That’s right: you can prevent scurvy. Birthday Cake Gummies can help.

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies 3

Science came. Science saw. Science did a bunch of chemical interactions. Maybe something exploded (because what’s good science without explosions?).

What emerged from the mist are these wacky, vanilla-forward gummies tinted in a pink so deep they could stomp on Barbie’s trademark. While the flavor doesn’t blow my mind, the vanilla is pleasantly simple and the concept of specialty gummies is kind of (definitely) spectacular. Perhaps Project 7 will Jelly-Belly-ify their gummies, expanding into the realms of pancakes and pina coladas. My appreciation of this gummy’s vanilla flavor, coupled with a hope that Project 7 will create a buttered popcorn-flavored gummy, is enough to encourage me to pick these up on occasion. If you like your pink with a shot of vanilla and vitamin C, these are worth a shot.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 pieces – 130 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 0 mg of potassium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 2 oz package
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Squishy. Sweet. Mellow, non-chemically vanilla flavor. Prevents scurvy. Kirby at the Hello Kitty Store. Using physics to whack a piñata. Polka-dotted underwear. Science!
Cons: Has googly eyes that haunt you. Not inclusive of all Birthday Cake flavors (yet). Questionable smell of fog effects at Laser Tag. May bring back traumatic Chuck E. Cheese Birthday memories. Radioactive sludge.

REVIEW: Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks

Let the record state: you are not likely to win former middle school crushes, current middle school crushes, or Santa Claus over with Peeps. Peeps are prepackaged, factory-formed one-noters. They are not handmade. They are not farm-to-table. They are sugary, squishy, mildly impersonal marshmallow chickens poofed out in Pennsylvania.

But if you are a candy loyalist of the sort who is not deterred by waxy eyeballs or the radioactive glow of their outer sheen, Peeps has enough varieties to fill a Container Store, not to mention the 18-foot-deep hole in my heart, but before I go on branding a marshmallow chicken on my left deltoid, I guess I should try ‘em all, and today? We go for Cotton Candy.

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks 2

With June stretching out over 80 days in the future, I can think of no better time than now to be reminded of a carnival, and ripping open this quintet of Peeps does just that, knocking me upside the head with sparkly wonder and a smell that blends a distinct sugary brightness with Strawberry Jolly Ranchers, Vanilla Febreze, and Bubblicious. Who needs Disneyland when you have Peeps?

(Okay, I need Disneyland. Especially Space Mountain.)

But much like the overpriced snow globe at the Miami Airport, these glitzy chicks are all flash with little substance, holding only a faint essence of its spun-sugar inspiration. While the marshmallow itself still has that special taste that can only emerge when sucrose and corn syrup combine, only faint blips of vanilla extract, strawberry, and bubblegum pop in.

Taken as a whole, the flavor is sharply sugar-forward, tasting more of a regular marshmallow that was swapped at birth and doomed to an existence with the incorrect moniker. While a trifle disappointing for those looking for a more robust flavor, I must admit that this humble sugar flavor harkens back to cotton candy’s main goal: to serve as a vehicle through which you might funnel simplified carbohydrates into your sugar-depraved body, and why should you deny yourself? Life’s tough. Sugar’s great.

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks 3

So, while they may cling to cotton candy’s legacy as a sugar-laden snack, this ensemble of chickadees tastes about as bold as faded paisley curtains. Perhaps it’s the batch. Perhaps it’s the Red #40. Perhaps it’s in the alignments of stars, Jupiter, and ill-directed DirecTV satellites, but I dare say these could use a little oomph.

That said, one might also say that this inconsistency is part of the true carnival experience. Just like balloon animals, dart games, and questionably constructed wooden roller coasters, cotton candy is not necessarily meant to be treated as a work of perfection, but more as a bright, mildly risky, fun treat, and these chicks? Achieve that. No ticket required. They may not warrant a permanent tattoo, but I could see a temporary tattoo going on.

(Nutrition Facts – 5 chicks – 140 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 milligrams of sodium, 0 mg of potassium, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 32 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 1.5 oz. package/5 chicks
Purchased at: Walgreens (a Walgreens exclusive)
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Fun. Shimmery. Not unpleasant vehicle for sugar. The Container Store. Space Mountain. Future plans to tattoo marshmallow chickadee on deltoid.
Cons: Missing the strawberry/vanilla/bubblegum flavors. Sugar crust falls off easily. Red Dye #40. One-note. Will not win former middle school crushes. Will not win current middle school crushes. Overpriced snow globes at the Miami Airport.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Filled Cupcake Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition Filled Cupcake Oreo Cookies

The year was 1922 when Sir Leonard Woolley began his excavation of the Mesopotamian city-state of Ur. It was here where he found a pair of dice dating back 4000 years, thus proving that humans have been degenerate gamblers since the ancients.

And it looks like Oreo is here to carry on the gambling legacy.

Indeed, diving headfirst into max-capacity, all-hands-on-deck lunacy, Oreo follows the shadow of its perfect cinnamon bun predecessor with a take on the original Hostess Cupcake, a nostalgic (if sometimes dry) packaged good with a highly specific flavor and repute of great renown.

No matter your thoughts on the Hostess chocolate cupcake itself, there’s no denying its very specific, mildly chocolate-y, super sweet, slightly preservative-twinged taste. To take on such a classic calls only the High Rollers to the gambling halls, but do you hear the wind? That’s the whisper of an Oreo accepting a challenge.

Limited Edition Filled Cupcake Oreo Cookies 2

The chocolate cookies are of the classic disc form, providing the crisp, dark, earthy, almost French-roasted-coffee chocolate flavor that toes the line of sugary charcoal briquettes while still avoiding tasting like you’re gnawing on your grill grates.

The chocolate frosting is dark and sugary as well, but also slightly muted, like dark chocolate that got sent through the car wash. It wants to harken back to Brownie Batter Oreos, but lacks the same fudgy, dark chocolate pudding-like flavor. No biggie, though. It’s really just a protective circumference for the dollop of white frosting in the center.

Hyper-sweet like the classic, yet also gooier that regular Oreo creme, the cookie’s center dab of white floof strikes a special place between Betty Crocker Frosting and Toaster Strudel Decorative Icing. What’s more, its unobstructed sugar balances out the roasted dark chocolate cookie with a texture and flavor that revives the cookie from the dull chocolate frosting, harkening back to the contrasts that gave the original cookie its reputation: the bitter with the sweet. The crunchy with the creamy. The Surrealist experience with the Euclidean Geometry of cookie design. That’s real life mathematics.

For a company that’s constructed its status on how to eat sandwich cookies, these new biscuits present new horizons. Sure, you can still chomp, twist, nibble, and dunk, but you can also eat just the creamy white center separately. You can have the icing all in one go. You can twist and dip your cookie in the white floof like a nacho. You can stack, dissolve, crush, crumble, and cure the common cold. (This statement has not been approved by the FDA.)

Limited Edition Filled Cupcake Oreo Cookies 3

What with their apparent skill at taking gambles, it’s a wonder that Oreo hasn’t launched a car line, lifestyle website, and competitive TV series. While some of Oreo’s efforts have seen immediate demise, this new spin does a moderately good job. The hyper-sweet frosting coupled with the surrounding dark chocolate harkens back to the flavors of its Hostess inspiration. Unfortunately, the humdrum chocolate frosting alongside the notably small number of cookies given in the limited time package mutes the experience a bit.

All in all, though, I can’t be too disappointed: the floof of white crème, crispy cookie, innovative construction, and capacity to be a massive Dunkaroo brings them up past Average to Enjoyable. They’re sugary, slightly chocolate-y, and do a respectable job at mirroring their inspiration. Heck, if you pay close attention, you can even taste the whisper of preservatives at the end. That’s detail.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 50 mg of potassium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and Less than 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Filled Cupcake Oreo Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.7 oz package
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Crispy chocolate cookie. Floofy, sweet white frosting. Potential to be a massive Dunkaroo. Mimics Hostess Cupcake flavors well. Geometry in real life. Ancient Mesopotamian city-states.
Cons: Not much different than an original Oreo. Chocolate frosting got sent through the car wash. Package is significantly smaller than standard Oreos. Not yet proven to cure the common cold. Lifestyle websites.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Molten Chocolate Macarons

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons

Let me guess. It’s a weekday. You’re busy. Too busy.

If you’re lucky you have a whole extra 2 minutes and 45 seconds to put your lasagna in the microwave, take out the trash, put on a cleaner pair of pants, and water the petunias. Wait, do you have a garden??? Who cares. Dump some water somewhere. This is no day for stops. No day for gentle meandering. No day for the 2 hours and waaay too many steps it takes to make a macaron.

Nonetheless, you want one.

So it was for me last Wednesday. Thus, low on blood sugar and pressed for time, my hand did not hesitate when I saw my craving had been sloshed through a Dexter’s Laboratory ray to create some giganto incarnation that may or may not come alive and try to take control of the city. They were huge. They were chocolate. They would be mine.

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons 2

First off, let’s get the overgrown, bloated elephant out of the room: the instructions suggest that the reader microwave these pastry beasts.

Resist.

Put your hand down. Step away from the cubic kitchen appliance. Look, I tried using el microondas with one of them and the thing came out with a half exploded, half burnt filling and a soggy cookie. In hindsight, this makes sense: microwaves cook the water inside the cookie. That water turns to steam. Steam makes soggy cookies. Soggy cookies makes puppies cry. Don’t make puppies cry.

Instead, I advise keeping these in the refrigerator and enjoying them at room temp. In this incarnation, the cookies are pretty boss. The outer crust crackles while the inside remains not too puffy and not too squishy in that “just right” way that makes Goldilocks wanna bust a move.

From there, it only gets better. The dark chocolate filling is piled in a hunk of nutty, roasty, fudgy goo whose depth contrasts well with the sweet cocoa cookies and whose richness could knock my Italian grandpa outta his pinstripe suit (love ya, grandpa!).

As if that weren’t enough, that filling is capped with a layer of some sort of nutty paste. Not Nutella, but rather some thick chocolate goo that, from what I can gather, has toasty nutty nubs (are they almonds?).

Sure, it may all be nothing beyond a glorified, high-quality chocolate frosting, but I’m admittedly a sucker for such things. Of course, the nuance of the filling is all lost if you slip these in microwave, so don’t listen to the instructions. The box tells lies. Lies!

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons 3

There is an admirable pugnacity about taking something splendid in its ordinary form and making it massive, but, as I learned from that classic box office flop, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, one must approach one’s gigantified power with caution lest chaotic, giant-baby-induced destruction ensue.

Similarly, these cookies have benefits and downfalls in their bulk. On the one hand, you get served an enormous, tip-top, mildly unorthodox chocolate cookie. On the other, said cookie can get overwhelming, overloading you with sugar and richness and lies about putting them in the microwave. Then again, these boulder-sized hunks become pretty grand when eaten defrosted at room temperature, retaining a crisp crust, soft cookie, and rich ganache filling.

Sure, they’re not too spiffy and won’t be replacing Francois Payard anytime soon, but did I mention they’re huge? Huge. If you eat one, you should wait 45 minutes before swimming or waive any complaints of digestive issues.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Macaron – 390 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 39 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Molten Chocolate Macarons
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 2-pack/7 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Massive. No oven required. Crust on outside. Sweet, soft cookie insides. Nutty, slightly bitter dark chocolate filling. “Pugnacity” is a lovely word. Will make my grandpa jump out of his pinstripe suit.
Cons: May be too massive. A little hum-drum. Microwave gives poor results. The box tells lies. Crying puppies. All that time I wasted watching Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.