REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies

Life tip number one: Always write your name in big, bold letters on your cowboy hat.

Life tip number two: Never say no to cheesecake, especially when it involves pumpkin.

Ever since Hostess rose from the crumbling sponge cake edifice of its 2012 bankruptcy filing, the company has been churning out seasonal flavors with Pop-Tart like alacrity. You might just say that Twinkie the Kid (who’s actually a 55-year old man who apparently doesn’t believe in wearing shirts) is a Twinkie of many hats, except, well, Twinkie the Kid always wears a cowboy hat.

Well, Twinkie the Kid must be hiding a chef’s hat under his Stetson, because his new Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies might just be the pinnacle of artificial pumpkin spice cheesecake flavor.

I wrote this in an endearing manner; one only expects so much authenticity in a cheesecake-flavored product that contains hydrogenated beef tallow, yet for what the Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies lack in their simplicity of ingredients, they more than make up for in surprisingly unexpected guilty pleasure appeal.

The key to enjoying the flavor of the Twinkies, like the key to enjoying so many mass-produced bakery snacks, is to judge the flavor as a sum of the cake’s part. I won’t sugarcoat this, because the 18 grams of sugar in each Twinkie already do, but the white fudge coating is waxy and saccharine on its own. The Twinkie cake, is, well, a slightly dry sponge cake that could just last into eternity. And the cream? A cinnamon and nutmeg explosion spilled into equal parts sour cream and marshmallow fluff.

When I first ate the Twinkie in three distinct parts, I thought it was mediocre. But then, since I’m a complete glutton who absolutely loves pumpkin spice cheesecake, I stuffed a whole Twinkie in my mouth.

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The flavor was unexpectedly if not unequivocally pumpkin spice, with a sweet, slightly tangy filling providing notes of cheesecake. The white fudge coating, commingling with the cakey and cream filled elements, suddenly provided both a textural contrast that mimicked a cheesecake crust, while also serving as a rich and sweet topping. I’m not saying it was a Cheesecake Factory experience par excellence, but as each Twinkie wrapper fell to the floor and crumbs of white fudge coating smeared onto my shirt, both the cheesecake and pumpkin spice flavor became more pronounced.

Which brings me to my major problem with Twinkie the Kid’s latest concoction: It’s hard to say no. Actually, it’s downright impossible, even though the cloying nature of the white fudge and the cinnamon heavy flavored cream tell your brain that this is not exactly the most authentic representation of pumpkin spice cheesecake you could buy.

But that’s the thing about both cheesecake and pumpkin spice: there’s a margin for error that doesn’t demand Philadelphia cream cheese, toasted nutmeg, or Saigon cinnamon. The flavor can be artificial; it can be overly sweet. Yet as long as it works within the constraints of the ingredients to conjure up the flavor of pumpkin spice cheesecake, it’s not something you’re going to say no to.

And judging by the how quickly I plowed through the nine snack cakes in my box of Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies, I won’t be saying no to buying these again.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Cake – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 6.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 9 cakes
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Admirably complexity in the pumpkin spice flavored cream. Cream has a cheesecake tang and thicker viscosity than normal Twinkie cream. White Fudge coating binds the whole cake together with rich and sweet flavor. Doesn’t screw up one of the best flavors of fall.
Cons: The white fudge coating is almost uneatable when sampled alone. Exceptionally sweet. Made with the same great stuff that McDonald’s used to fry their fries in. Eating 720 calories in Twinkies and still feeling famished.

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.

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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!

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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: Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies

Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies

Hi, everyone.

I’m here to accept this Cookie of the Year award on behalf of Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies. They couldn’t be here because…well, because I ate all of them.

First off, I’d just like to congratulate and thank the other nominees. I’m not really sure who any of you are, because this award is entirely made up by Nestle Toll House, but you all did a great job this year and should feel really proud. Except for you, Swedish Fish Oreos. You were not nominated for this fake award and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

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Next, I want to thank “break and bake” technology. Thanks to you, making sugary, fattening cookies is SO much easier! No more worrying about whether I have enough flour on hand or if the eggs have expired…I can just open the package, break the premade dough along its perforations, and 10-11 minutes later I have some perfectly baked cookies. And another 10-11 minutes later, I have a stomach ache from inhaling those perfectly baked cookies.

The sugar cookie dough is really what made this whole thing possible. It’s sweet and buttery, with just a hint of floury goodness. Its performance doesn’t take any risks, but it doesn’t have to. It’s the same sugar cookie flavor we know and love from Nestle Toll House–a real classic.

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The Butterfinger Baking Bits did a pretty good job in the starring role, too. Their stick-to-your-teeth presence is definitely noticeable, and shows their peanut buttery range through a dynamic sweet and salty combination. As enjoyable as that peanut butter element aspect is, I really wish there had been more of it from start to finish. It just popped up here and there, upstaged by the fantastic sugar cookie dough. But those occasional cameos are really satisfying when they do happen.

I’ve got to say, I’m a little surprised that the milk chocolate took such a minor role in this whole project. When it’s there, it’s creamy and sweet, but I was hoping for a lot more of it. When I think of Butterfingers, I think of a crispy peanut butter center enveloped in a creamy milk chocolate coating. This cookie nailed the peanut butter part, but didn’t quite reach its full milk chocolate potential. With a better peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio, I have no doubt this cookie would go down as one of the all-time greats.

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Having said that, Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies wouldn’t have won this award without good reason (okay, actually, they did). The sugar cookie dough does an incredible job carrying the cookie, and the Butterfinger Baking Bits mimic the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar quite well. The milk chocolate flavor is a bit underwhelming, but hey, not everybody can be the star of the show. Let’s all raise a glass of milk to the 2016 Cookie of the Year: Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies.

Thank you for allowing me the honor of devouring them.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cookie – 80 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protei.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 16 oz (makes 24 cookies)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sugary and rich sugar cookie dough. Peanut butter flavor shines through sweet and salty buddy cop duo. Baking Bits stick to your teeth just like an actual Butterfinger. Giving acceptance speeches just for eating cookies.
Cons: Totally made-up award. Milk chocolate flavor could have been better. Swedish Fish Oreos.

REVIEW: Hostess Original Golden Deep Fried Twinkies

Hostess Deep Fried Twinkies

As someone who grew up in a town that hosts the so-called “Biggest Small Town Fair in the Country,” I’m familiar with novelty fried foods. And oxymorons, apparently.

So yes, I have had a deep-fried Twinkie before, and for all I know, that barely digestible monstrosity is still hanging out somewhere inside me. It probably has a better memory of Summer 2004 than I do, too.

That’s why I wasn’t scared of Hostess’ new Deep Fried Twinkies. I mean, these things are pre-fried, frozen, boxed, and conveniently stocked in Walmart’s freezer aisle endcap! “That’s like eating fried food on easy mode!” my inner Twinkie shouted from somewhere in my large intestine.

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But I shouldn’t have treated these Deep Fried Twinkies like declawed kittens. Because despite their sad frozen appearance, which is like Han Solo in carbonite crossed with a belt-sanded fish stick, these unassuming Twinkies are more like rattlesnakes wearing silencers.

Ever-curious, I took a nibble of a still-frozen cake. It tasted like a Krispy Kreme doughnut stuffed with frozen custard. That was all the heart-fluttering inspiration I needed to fire up my toaster oven* to 350° and spend the next eight minutes eagerly glued to my warmly radiating fried food boob tube.

The Deep Fried Twinkies’ packaging warns not to over bake them, as the cream inside can disappear. Not wanting my Twinkie’s hot, buttery goo to transcend this earthly plane, I wondered how long to wait. But right as I actually spoke the words, “How do I know if it’s done?” aloud, the golden tube leaked a prophetic drop of sizzling crème onto the toaster’s bottom.

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As emergency rescue, extraction, and cooling of my Twinkie began, I drank in its authentic county fair aroma like a Looney Toon next to a windowsill pie. Once my Deep Fried Twinkie’s leaky wounds cauterized, I dug in.

DMG! (Dough My Goodness!) What was once a chewy, doughnutty shell was now crispy, oily, and buttery sweet—like the shell of a cannoli or the wrapper on a dessert egg roll.** But the oil didn’t leak into the fluffy, warm, and golden sponge cake inside. This created a tasty puff pastry blanket around the cream center instead of the oily mess you might find in other deep fried treats.

I’m looking at you, Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights.

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And can we talk about my Deep Fried Twinkies’ crème filling? Because it was fantastic. It tasted just like the creamy vanilla innards of a normal Twinkie, except half-liquefied. It had the flavor of whipped cream mixed with doughnut glaze and the viscosity of runny maple syrup.

This means that you can squeeze the delicate treat and quite literally suck up the crème like the world’s most dangerous Capri-Sun juice box. And I’ll proudly testify in front of a judge and jury that this, your honor, is exactly what I did with my Deep Fried Twinkie.

Maybe it’s my hometown nostalgia talking, but I adore these Deep Fried Twinkies (which have a Chocolate variety, too). They have a charming novelty with the part-doughnut, part-Twinkie, part-funnel cake taste to back it up. You owe it to your inner child to give one of these a try.

And I promise, that’s not just my inner deep-fried Twinkie talking.

*Note: You can also oven bake or actually deep fry these. I chose a toaster oven because I was impatient and thought McDonald’s would kick me out if I asked to use their fryer.

**Note: I made up the term “dessert egg roll” for this review, but apparently it’s a real thing. What a time to be alive.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 220 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 300 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 16 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: 7 cakes
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: The buttery lovechild of a county fair, a bakery, and a snack cake aisle. Wanting (and planning) to pour this crème onto a Belgian waffle. Frozen custard cylinders. Winning my town fair’s pie-eating contest in high school.
Cons: Being unable to decide whether to eat my next Twinkie frozen or hot. Only come 7 to a package. Smelling burnt crème in my toaster oven for the next two weeks. Shuddering memories of Cap’n Crunch Delights.

REVIEW: Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites

Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites

Let’s get one thing straight. Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites aren’t “bites.”

They’re balls.

Which is fine, because the country is in love with balls right now. You’ve got Pokemon Go, baseball season, Powerball, and the Olympics crowding the scene, but Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites are what you should be focusing on.

Skippy introduced their P.B. Bites line about a year ago with Double Peanut Butter and Pretzel varieties, and they’ve proven to be a hit with the public. I’d never noticed the P.B. Bites previously because choosy reviewers like me choose Jif, but for TIB I decided to give it a shot and picked up a pack of their new Graham Cracker variety.

The P.B. Bites come in small cup-holder sized containers, because I assume Skippy thought people might take a swill of these during the morning commute. While I advise against that (due to the legal threat of causing something similar to a Pokemon Go-induced car accident), the peanut butter poppers are certainly portable and are easy to take to work or school.

Upon opening the package, I was hit with a strong wave of peanut butter scent. The smell is of a nicely roasted peanut butter, and gave off none of the artificial notes you may typically find in the peanut butter candy at the bottom of your Halloween spoils.

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The P.B. Bites glisten in the light (note to self: make Mom a peanut butter diamond necklace for Christmas), and that sheen is indicative of the oily nature of the balls. Since the bites’ exteriors are coated in peanut butter, they’re soft and tacky to the touch and can only be handled for a few moments before eating (lest you want to have a real big mess on your hands). Thankfully though, the bites aren’t sticky, so you’ll be able to pop a few before getting club hand.

While you may expect the P.B. Bites have a little bit of chew to them, this is furthest from the case. The soft peanut butter exterior of the balls melts away to reveal a small, crunchy graham cracker center. The peanut butter tastes surprisingly more natural than what you typically expect from a jar of Skippy, with a deep peanut flavor. And while peanut butter from the jar has a tendency to collect on the roof of your mouth, I am pleased to share that Skippy’s P.B. Bites do no such thing. Glass of milk be gone!

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Regrettably, while the Bites’ crunch is satisfying, the tiny graham cracker center lacks any discernible flavor and is overwhelmed by the peanut butter. This makes sense, because I can imagine if I covered myself in peanut butter and ate myself, I’d be incredibly delicious. And while the bites may not provide any graham cracker flavor, you’ll find yourself not caring because the rest of the bite is just so damn good.

Overall, with their natural flavor and pleasing crunch, Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites are a pleasant snack that any peanut butter connoisseur would appreciate. Just don’t try to throw one at a Charizard.

(Nutrition Facts – 15 pieces – 160 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 6 oz. tub
Purchased at: Star Market
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Pop ‘em in your Pontiac. Natural peanut butter taste. Satisfying crunch. Good for people with Arachibutyrophobia.
Cons: Melts in your hand and also in your mouth. Tiny, flavorless center. Thoughts of self-cannibalism.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Key Lime Slime Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Key Lime Slime Twinkies

What’s your favorite scene from the original Ghostbusters?

Was it the library ghost sequence to open the movie? What about Venkman getting slimed? Maybe you liked the big climax where our heroes saved New York City? There are plenty to choose from.

My favorite scene was when Egon ate a Twinkie. Classic!

Okay, that’s not entirely true, but if you were wondering how the famous snack cake ties in with the Ghostbusters, there’s your connection. Egon Spengler used a Twinkie as a metaphor for some scientific mumbo jumbo and then chowed down.

Fast forward 32 years (OMG, you’re so old!) and we have new Ghostbusters and new Twinkies. Long gone are the days of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Hudson, and boring old vanilla cream. Now we have Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones, and Key Lime Slime cream!

Hostess has graced the public with the same oily Twinkie cakes we’ve loved since 1930 (OMGGG, you’re sooooo old!) This time, however, they tried something new with the cream.

Twinkies are always a gamble for me. Sometimes you get a nice moist, fluffy cake. Other times you get a firm, spongy disaster. I lucked out with a perfect batch this time.

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The “slime” colored cream bursting out of the three holes on the underbelly of the cake makes it look moldy. I have a feeling this may turn some people off, but if you stick with it, the Key lime flavor will make you forget about that. It also looks a lot tastier once you bite or cut into the Twinkie.

I was skeptical of Key lime as a Twinkie flavor, but they managed to pull it off. In reality, it’s artificially colored green, so they could have just dyed the regular filling like Oreo does with the orange Halloween cookies. Why not? It’d be a perfect representation of the movie it’s promoting – a cheap gimmicky repacking of an old idea.

Whooooaaaa! Proton blasts fired!

Nah, I kid because I love. The lime flavor is very subtle. It tasted like a regular Twinkie with a faint citrus blast.

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Normally I’d probably hold that against a product. It almost seemed like they didn’t believe in the flavor so they diluted it, but it worked well here. I’ll let it slide.

I expected the cream to be either too sweet or too sour, but it toed the line nicely. It also had a great whipped texture, and there was plenty of it stuffed within the cake.

I picked up some Banana Twinkies just for taste and appearance comparisons, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I might like Key Lime Slime more than Banana.

Now please allow me a mini rant.

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I said it in my Ecto Cooler review, but they’ve really done a subpar job with the marketing of this movie. The box here has one tiny Ghostbusters logo and shades of green. This could have been a really cool collectable box if designed better. This is yet another “slime” tie-in that has no mention or appearance of Slimer. It’s not like they lost the rights to the character. I know he’s in the new movie, so put him on the box! I know he’s an ugly little spud, but put him on the damn box! Stay Puft is on the White Fudge Marshmallow Twinkie box. Where’s Slimer?!

Anyway, the serving size for these Twinkies is two cakes. I ate two. That should tell you that these are a winner. Happy hunting.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 260 calories, 80 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 35 mg of cholesterol, 350 mg of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 29 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 13.58 oz. box/10 cakes
Purchased at: Wegmans
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Not overly sweet. Not overly sour. Perfectly fresh Twinkie batch. Ample cream filling. The name “Egon Spangler.” Might be better than Banana.
Cons: Key lime could have been a tad stronger. Moldy looking. Complete lack of Slimer in the marketing. My mother gave most of my old Ghostbusters toys away. Scientific mumbo jumbo. We’re old.