REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Birthday Cake Fudge Stripes Cookies

Keebler Limited Batch Birthday Cake Fudge Stripes Cookies

During the 45 years or so of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union built up massive quantities of nuclear weapons in an effort to counter each other and become the world’s leading super power.

Each had their own spheres of influence, but since separate hemispheres weren’t enough, both nations just kept building more and bigger missiles until one couldn’t keep up any longer.

A quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, another arms race is occurring. The good news is that the entire existence of the human race is no longer at stake. The bad news is that we are all going to get massively obese.

It’s a trade I am totally cool with.

Gone are the days when Oreo was content with being the world’s leading chocolate sandwich cookie; likewise, Keebler’s elves aspire to an empire greater than just fudge covered shortbreads. The two companies have fought for cookie supremacy in recent limited time offerings of red velvet and pumpkin spice, but the latest flashpoint in the great cookie conflict is one flavor that I never get tired of celebrating: Birthday Cake.

While I give the elves credit for creating a cookie that has all three traditional elements of birthday cake (sprinkles, frosting, and uh, “cake”) I do need to point out that the box artwork features a cupcake. At first I thought this was just a celebration of portion control, but since the package also happens to be non-resalable — thus increasing my chances of inhaling all the cookies in one sitting — I realize the elves probably just suck at making distinctions.

I, however, do not. And to be sure, the distinction of Birthday Cake vs. Cupcake is one I take seriously. If you show me a cupcake, I expect the frosting to steal the show. That’s not the case with these cookies, though.

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Oh, I mean the shortbread element is fine. It’s buttery with a delectably fine crumb and the non-overpowering element of sweetness I admire about the original Fudge Stripe.

But whereas the original Fudge Stripe can get away with a faux-chocolate glaze that works to balance the shortbread, the frosting glaze on the latest batch of shortbread just tastes like that generic palm oil glaze we’ve all had a million times. It’s not buttercream frosting; it’s not cream cheese frosting; it’s not even a damn Swiss meringue. It’s just way too sweet, and lacks that luscious mouthfeel of an actual frosting element. Likewise, it’s cut off from the sprinkles, which themselves lack the crunchy contrast I want buried in frosting.

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Fortunately, since my pantry is always willing to celebrate an actual birthday, I had some rainbow chip frosting handy. Now, while I realize this stuff would be good on anything from pancakes to Ritz crackers, I did find it especially wonderful when stuffed between the Fudge Stripe Birthday Cake cookies.

Biting through the crunchy shortbread into actual, sprinkled-filled frosting — even in an artificial, shelf-stable form — reminded me of Oreo’s birthday cake attempt and how providing just a level of textural contrast can go a long way to really making a birthday cake-flavored product worth the purchase.

Does the fact that Oreo makes a better birthday cake cookie than Keebler mean that the Elves are destined to toil in a downtrodden economy until an ex-KGB spy who likes to take his shirt off attempts to assert them as the world’s leading cookie makers? Probably not. But in the arms race of cookie flavors, Keebler’s latest gambit just can’t keep pace.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: $2.99
Purchased at: Weis Markets
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Delectable shortbread crumb. Crunchy sprinkle pieces. Wonderful vehicle birthday cake frosting.
Cons: Waxy, mostly tasteless frosting element. Too much shortbread taste for a birthday cake product. Non-resalable packaging. Cookie company flavor arms races.

REVIEW: Pillsbury Grands Limited Edition S’mores Rolls

Pillsbury Grands Limited Edition S'mores Rolls

The Pillsbury Doughboy is back at it again but this time on the s’mores bandwagon and he’s totally woo-hooing for the wrong team! Like most bandwagoners, it’s not entirely his fault. He’ll soon realize that s’mores-flavored products are quickly joining the ranks of other craze-du-jour-flavored products. Cue the lineup of failed Pumpkin Spice, Red Velvet, Apple-flavored products because it’s all hype & poor execution, buddy!

I’m sad to share that the Limited Edition Pillsbury Grands S’mores Rolls are no exception. To sum up the experience: shaky start, better second half but ultimately still couldn’t deliver.

Here’s the play-by-play:

After the satisfying Pillsbury packaging pop, a pungent chocolate-esque smell creeps its way into my olfactory receptors. I say chocolate-esque because it smells like most artificial packaged chocolate smells: sickeningly sweet and nothing like what real chocolate smells like. Offensive foul for the Doughboy.

As the dough oozes its way out of the popped container, I am geeking out a little bit about the icing packaging. I was wondering how Pillsbury would fit icing in their neat cylindrical package. While it does mean I’m one roll short, the icing itself is packaged like it’s a part of the dough roll – in a small, plastic cylindrical container at the end. Clever!

Of course, I can’t help but try the white icing goop. It unfortunately and fortunately doesn’t taste like anything. I say unfortunately because if this is supposed to be the marshmallow part, it fails miserably like an airball. I also say fortunately because I’ve been known to eat all icing before it actually makes it onto the baked good.

The naked, uneven dough plops look really unappetizing on the baking sheet. They’re different sizes because it was hard to rip apart evenly. Sloppy pass here, Pillsbury.

The packaging says to bake for 23 – 29 minutes so I set my oven timer for 26 minutes – middle ground is safe right?! While the rolls were baking, the chocolate filling actually started to smell like my favorite thing in the world: fresh baked cookies! I could smell the chocolate filling warming up from artificial chocolate to rich deliciousness.

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After some risin’ and golden brownin’, the rolls come out looking way better than how they looked going in. However, I immediately notice that it’s a little crispy on the outside. This could absolutely be user error, but this never happens with the biscuits!

Before I begin the daunting task of icing the 350 degree Fahrenheit swirls, I try the roll sans icing. Gnawing my way through the sweet chocolate filling, I notice that there’s a slight savoriness to the dough itself – very reminiscent of Pillsbury biscuits. That biscuit-like savoriness proves to be the saving grace for the tasteless icing. When I do canvas on the icing, like Durant and Westbrook, the icing and more-savory dough work real well together.

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However, the icing to roll ratio is completely off; I only got through about three rolls before I ran out of icing. When I ran out, I turned to ice cream instead. I’m all about textures and temperatures and ice cream is the perfect complement. Icing, schmicing!

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While Pillsbury has a strong overall record, the Limited Edition Pillsbury Grands S’mores Rolls just can’t pull off the W. The dough itself is hard to work with and over bakes way too easily. Its teammates – chocolate filling and icing – can’t make up for the dough’s overpowering oafishness. As Limited Edition S’mores Rolls fades into irrelevance, I’ll be posted up at Cinnabon. Better luck next limited edition season!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Roll with Icing – 300 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 540 milligrams of sodium, 54 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 17.5 oz.
Purchased at: Vons
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Rolls come out looking & smelling way better baked. Smells like fresh baked cookies! Savory dough works well.
Cons: Artificial chocolate = offensive foul for the Doughboy. Naked, uneven dough plops. Icing, schmicing!

REVIEW: Hostess Brownies made with Milky Way

Hostess Brownies made with Milky Way

Do you remember the first time you had your heart broken?

I do. It all started when I found out that Ariel from The Little Mermaid wasn’t a real person that I could marry someday. I’ll admit, I was young and naive. I thought that maybe, despite her relationship with that stooge Prince Eric, if I told her how much I loved her, I might have a chance. Eventually, I realized there was a reason all of my letters to 123 Unda Da Sea Boulevard kept coming back marked “Return to Sender.”

But that was yesterday, and today is a new day. I’m ready to love again! And it’s perfect timing too, because I’ve got my eye on these gorgeous new Hostess Brownies made with Milky Way. They combine two of my favorite things — brownies and candy — so they’ve got to be the total package. I can already feel the love in the air. Or maybe that’s just my high cholesterol.

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When I unwrapped the brownie, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on an episode of the MTV show Catfish. This brownie didn’t look anything like the perfectly lighted, Myspace-angled photo from the outer packaging. It was far less attractive, as though it had been frantically thrown together on the production line. The icing was an unsettling shade of tan, far from the rich caramel depicted in the photo on the box.

The brownie itself has a deep fudgy flavor. On its own, it’s decently moist and tastes strongly of cocoa. The problem is that those elements are only apparent when eaten separately from the icing. The icing, which is very sugary (and slightly chocolatey) but doesn’t carry any distinct caramel flavor whatsoever, dominates the brownie’s flavor and texture. Its sweetness overpowers the complexity of the fudge brownie, and the granularity of the icing results in an odd drying sensation when chewing the brownie altogether.

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If all of that wasn’t disappointing enough, the Milky Way pieces add virtually nothing to the brownie. They don’t add the nougat-y, caramel-y flavor one usually associates with their namesake candy bars, and the pieces themselves aren’t substantial enough to be noticed against the larger brownie. The Milky Way candy pieces essentially blend in with the icing in each bite, in terms of both taste and texture.

So, consider this heartbreak number two. I was expecting a brownie doused in caramel and chunks of candy bars, but basically got a frosted chocolate cake. I enjoyed these to the extent that I enjoy chocolate cake, but I definitely wouldn’t use the word “love.”

(Nutrition Facts – 1 brownie – 170 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 20 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 9.1 oz box (6 brownies)
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Moist brownie. Rich, fudge flavor. Romantic relationships with cartoon characters and junk food. Sexy Myspace angles on snack cake packaging.
Cons: Lack of caramel flavor. Milky Way pieces are basically just there for decoration. Brownie feels dry when eaten with icing. Being told by the mailman that Unda Da Sea Boulevard is not a real place.

REVIEW: Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M's

Dear Hostess,

Let me start by saying that I’ve always been loyal.

I’ve been eating your cakes since I first misinterpreted the song’s lyrics as “Twinkie Twinkie Little Star.” When a friend bet me $2 that I couldn’t eat an entire Ho Ho in one bite, you better believe I sucked it down like a crème-stuffed Kobayashi. Your treats even helped me escape grade school shame, as I bragged to my friends how I had a girlfriend named Suzy Q.

“You wouldn’t know her. She goes to another school!”

That’s why I’m sorry. I’m sorry that even after I resisted the smutty Nutty Bars and curvaceous Swiss Rolls of Little Debbie, that foul temptress broke my willpower with her decadent Cosmic Brownies.

I’m a sucker for sticky, artificial brownies, and your discontinued Brownie Bites left a hole in my life that only Debbie’s fudgy bricks could fill.

But it’s okay, because now you have these new brownies made with M&M’s. I understand there’s a new man in your life, but I’m going to prove that I can treat you better than that wisecracking red M&M ever could. I’m gonna eat this entire box of brownies, just like the good old days when we’d munch through pouches of Mini Muffins without a care or “suggested serving size” in the world.

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Your candy-studded brownies are shorter, but girthier than the connected LEGO bricks of Cosmic Brownies. This is good: I like a minimalistic gal. And upon first bite, I immediately remembered why I love you, Hostess.

All the grandmas of the world can heave a collective sigh of relief, because these are no replacement for homemade brownies—there’s no eggy denseness, dark cocoa complexity, or touch of vanilla. But what there is is fudge, and lots of it: way more than in any Cosmic Brownie.

Between the frosting and the hyper-crumbly base, your brownies have enough rich fudge flavor to make Fudgy the Whale fudge his pants. It’s super sweet, but also pleasantly buttery. You always did know how to butter me up, Hostess.

Your M&M’s brownies beat Debbie’s in texture, too. While hers may have a compelling chewiness, yours are more satisfyingly soft and spongy. Combined with the smooth frosting, the whole brownie feels and tastes like a cream-less Oreo Cakester with Hostess Cupcake icing.

And since I’d give up my right arm, my right to bear arms, and my beloved childhood Teddy Bear to bring Oreo Cakesters back from the snack graveyard, this comparison is a high compliment.

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Oh, and the M&M’s? They’re way better than any lame Cosmic Chips, because they’re M&M’s Minis. With a fun, crackling texture contrast and a superior shell-to-chocolate ratio that would make a normal M&M consider liposuction, the Minis provide bombshell bursts of milky sweetness in an otherwise fudge-dominated world.

There aren’t many M&M’s on top, but there are more buried down in your brownies’ deepest recesses. It’s like the old phrase says: “you can’t judge a book by its miniaturized milk chocolate morsel bedazzled cover.”

Sure, your brownies aren’t perfect: they’re too small for a satisfying snack, they make a hell of a crumb-spewing mess, and they have an uncomfortable oily aftertaste. But I’m willing to look past that if you can forgive my infidelity. I promise, my sordid affair with Deborah is over, and you and I still have many happy fudgy days ahead.

I don’t need Cosmic Brownies to have out of this world taste, Hostess. Because when it comes to highly processed snack cakes, you are my universe.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 brownie – 170 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 64 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 9.1. oz box/6 brownies
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: A fudgy ménage à trois between candy, Cupcake, and Cakester. Deeply buried Mini M&M’s landmines. Squares so spongy that Nickelodeon might sue. Building my inevitable tomb out of fudgy bricks.
Cons: Kicking up brownie crumb dust clouds. Won’t out-Grandma your Grandma. Snack cake infidelity. Crying over old Polaroids of Oreo Cakesters.

REVIEW: Betty Crocker Krispy Kreme Cake Mix

Betty Crocker Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Cake Mix with Original Doughnut Glaze

In my eyes, there are only two kinds of ring-shaped confections. There are donuts, and there are doughnuts.

Donuts fit the technical definition of “sweet fried dessert made from yeast or cake,” but only doughnuts have that extra bit of greatness that sets them above other pastries. It could be a magical moistness, or perhaps a glaze that caresses my arteries with a loving embrace of death that whispers, “Shhh, no more tears. Only dreams now.”

The divine tastiness of doughnuts is right there in the name. DoUGHnuts: the very same ecstatic and nearly orgasmic “UGH” that I emit when biting into a decadent doughnut.

So that’s my one question for Betty Crocker’s Krispy Kreme Cake Mix. Is it gonna be a donut…or a doughnut?

The mix can be made into a cake or several cupcakes, but since I’m a grown ass man and not an elementary school kid forced to bring in treats for his own birthday (seriously, what’s up with that tradition?), I’m going to make a sheet of buttery flour that’s big enough to double as a pillow.

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When it comes to baking, I’m a little less Wolfgang Puck and a little more Wolfgang “F*** It,” so I’m glad I only have to toss water, eggs, and oil into the mix and go (dough)nuts with a whisk.

I spend 40 agonizing minutes watching my oven gestate and give birth to a warm, custard-colored baby. It’s just like any real birth, only with more drool and a slightly lower chance of me soiling myself from exertion.

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It’s a boy! Err…maybe a girl. Who cares: I’ll name it Kris.

Time for glazing. The box insists with odd specificity that I must squeeze the glaze pouch ten—count ‘em—ten (10) times before opening. I don’t want the vengeful ghost of Betty Crocker to bludgeon me with a stale Honey Cruller, so I follow orders.

The charming white goo inside tastes just like Krispy Kreme’s infamous glaze: a perfect, slightly gritty mix of sugar, corn syrup, milk, and magical unicorn blood (probably). It takes all the restraint I have to not plunge a Capri Sun straw into the pouch and suck it dry until I die shortly after.

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After I glaze it like the world’s largest Toaster Strudel, my cake baby is ready for eating. Please don’t mention that last sentence at my future wife’s baby shower.

So what’s the verdict?

Dough yeah, baby.

The cake’s fluffy innards may be light and pillowy like most Betty Crocker cakes (and not at all like an actual doughnut), but the flavor differentiates itself with a noticeable sour cream tang and a pleasant lemon zest finish.

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The real winning part of the cake is the gooey, sticky meeting point between golden browned cake and glaze. It does an admirable job of mimicking the fried and mouth-watering exterior of a Krispy Kreme. In fact, it’s so good that I was tempted to scalp my cake and eat just the top layer like a greedy child licking the creme from an Oreo.

With that being said, I was ready to give this cake mix top marks. But then I remembered that I could have walked down the grocery aisle and bought a half dozen actual Krispy Kremes for the same price, which would’ve been a whole lot more sour cream tang for my buck.

So while this Krispy Kreme mix rises above Betty Crocker’s other cake mixes, it doesn’t quite reach the level of the real, doughnutty thing.

If you wanna rise that high, Betty, you’re gonna need a lot more yeast.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/9 of cake as prepared – 280 calories, 100 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Item: Betty Crocker Krispy Kreme Cake Mix
Purchased Price: $2.69
Size: 16.3 oz. box
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Getting as close to a doughnut as a cake can possibly aspire. Golden brown cake scalps. Cryptozoological glaze. Watching the miracle of birth at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cons: Still just a cake wearing a doughnut Halloween costume. Over-airy cake guts. Possibly divisive lemon flavor. Feeling glazed & confused after too much sugar.

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Limited Edition Banana Chocolate Milano Cookies

Pepperidge Farm Limited Edition Banana Chocolate Milano Cookies

As I sit here gazing out at mounds of dirty snow piled as far as the eye can see, I dream of a better place.

So disillusioned, I choose to believe a bite into Pepperidge Farm’s new Banana Chocolate Milano cookie will result in a reverse York Peppermint Patty effect and I will be whisked away to beautiful Milan, Italy.

Perhaps one single bite will send me to a tropical island, where I can pluck ripe bananas straight from a tree. We’ll soon find out.

It seems wild to call a cookie that is shelved right next to fish-shaped crackers aimed at children “decadent,” but that’s the word that comes to mind when I think of a Milano.

I’m of the opinion you can’t screw up a Milano. I’ve tried plenty of varieties and liked em all. I’m also a massive banana groupie (that doesn’t sound right) so I have no doubts these would be winners.

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I don’t know what it is with Pepperidge Farm’s packaging, but I never seem to open it properly. After tearing the bag to shreds, I was hit with an unmistakable banana scent that perked me up. It reminded me of the smell when you walk into a bakery. I was now ready to be whisked away.

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When I took the first bite into the wafer, nothing happened. The world isn’t fair.

It tasted as if the wafer had a bit of banana flavor baked in. But I couldn’t really tell if it was the banana filling bleeding through. I’m pleading ignorance here. I think it just tasted that way since it’s such an airy wafer. That’s one of the best parts about Milano, the crunchy, but not at all dense cookie.

I put it in my mouth and inhaled it like a total weirdo. Who does that? I essentially tried to smoke a cookie. I can tell you there is a nice banana…um, air when you try to smoke a cookie. Don’t smoke cookies, kids.

It wasn’t until I hit the center that the banana flavor come out in full force.

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There’s a thin layer of banana filling with the familiar chocolate layer. It had a similar texture to the chocolate. The bag actually refers to it as “banana flavored chocolate.”

Here’s my question: Where has “banana flavored chocolate” been my entire life? This was a revelation for me. I mean, I’m sure plenty of products have used a similar substance before, but why wasn’t I aware of it? I feel like I’ve missed so much. “Banana flavored chocolate” is awesome. I want more of this banana chocolate concoction in my life.

The banana is strong but not overly so. I think banana bread is very dependent on texture, but these should remind you of that flavor. Few things top a nice fresh slice of banana bread, but these are a great attempt at imitating the flavor in cookie form, with the added bonus of chocolate mixed in.

After the initial tasting, I kept a few aside to have with my morning coffee, and it was naturally a delicious pairing. Banana Chocolate Milano Cookies are a home run. As far as I’m concerned, Pepperidge Farm still hasn’t made a bad Milano.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 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, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Limited Edition Banana Chocolate Milano Cookies
Purchased Price: $3.59
Size: 7 oz. (about 16 cookies)
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Banana flavored chocolate. Milano’s consistency. Airy wafer. Great for dipping. No artificial flavors or preservatives. A short reprieve from the winter blues.
Cons: No instant transportation properties in each bite. A rapidly growing cookie smoking habit. Fear of missing out on more banana flavored chocolate treats. Pain in the neck packaging. Limited edition.