REVIEW: Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

Pumpkin makes me pop. It isn’t just pumpkin though. I’m a bonafide cinna-slut, and all things swirling with the spice makes me feel real nice.

Building off of the success of chasing junk food trends and releasing the birthday cake flavored and damn delicious Popfetti earlier this year, Pop Secret are back at trying to win over our trendy hearts with a pumpkin spice microwaveable popcorn.

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Pushing my nose up against the un-popped Pop Secret package gives off the classic microwave popcorn artificial buttery smell with just the slightest tickle of cinnamon in the background. Poppin’ the corn into the micro releases a bit more a distinct spicy aroma, once again accompanied by a more dominant and in-your-face butter presence.

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The popped bag, warm and spewing steam, has a surprisingly nice a ginger smell to it that joins in on the butter party for a little extra nostril tingle. The signature artificial bright-ish yellow color is replaced by a slightly orangey tan that does good enough to channel the skin of a pumpkin.

The flavor of the popcorn is confusing. On my first bite, I get a little squashy pumpkin flavor, but that might be my mind playing tricks in the way it interprets the slightly greasy buttery essence that all good micro-pop carries. But the flavor quickly fades.

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There’s no doubt this is different than regular Pop Secret, but that’s less apparent in any big spicy pumpkin notes and much more about how un-salty it is. There’s barely any saltiness, which could work if it was replaced by cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, but there isn’t really much of that either. Every couple of handfuls I get a soft smooch of cinnamon and ginger, and I like it, but it’s far from the bold flavors I’ve come to expect from microwave popcorn.

Even though there are zero grams of sugar per bag, there is an underlining sweetness to the popcorn, thanks to sucralose (Splenda). Luckily, there’s no weird artificial sweetener aftertaste, but again, there isn’t much autumn intrigue going on either. This popcorn doesn’t taste bad, it simply tastes like kettle corn minus the crucial salty factor that completes the yin and yang of that classic flavor profile.

Does this popcorn taste like popcorn? Definitely. Is it warm and comforting and slightly sweet? You betcha. Does it deliver on the big polarizing flavor that is pumpkin spice? Unfortunately not. It’s still an enjoyable sidekick to a night in with a slasher flick, but not something you need to seek out like the almighty Popfetti from earlier this year.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 Tbsp Unpopped – 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: Three 3 oz. bags
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Nice pumpkin-y color. Decent sweetness. Mellow hints of ginger and cinnamon.
Cons: Not much pumpkin spice flair. Tastes more like corn than cinnamon. Could use more salty pop.

REVIEW: Hostess Chocolate Peanut Butter Twinkies

Hostess Chocolate Peanut Butter Twinkies

As a lifelong Hostess Cupcake devotee, when Chocolate Cake Twinkies hit the market earlier this year, my first response was “Stay in your lane, Twinkies!”

I just didn’t think this flavor swinger’s club was a good idea. The “golden” iterations of Cupcake were just Twinkie knockoffs to me. Any other flavor in the universe is fair game for either product, but chocolate belongs to Cupcake and vanilla is Twinkies, in my mind.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Twinkies has softened that stance just a bit.

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(I’m at my mother’s house – everything here is quilted. If I leave this Twinkie unattended, it will self-quilt.)

On opening the individually-wrapped cakes, the aroma that greeted me was all cocoa. Dark, rich cocoa. No peanut at all. Interesting, but it didn’t put me off.

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Next – the grease test. One Twinkie on a paper napkin for 15 minutes. I find modern Twinkies much oilier than when I was a child. Maybe they always left a shiny slick and I only notice it now as an adult who struggles to fit into the same pants I wore last year. But these Twinkies felt less greasy, and left a sheen so subtle my camera couldn’t capture it. Definitely a plus.

Like the scent, my first bite was 100 percent cocoa. It almost overwhelmed the peanut butter, which I picked up on increasingly with each bite. I was expecting the teeth-achingly-sweet peanut butter buttercream filling that seems to be the default recently, but Hostess got it right. There’s some sugar, but for the most part, they let the peanut butter be itself. PB is a perfect taste that doesn’t need a lot of window dressing, in my opinion. The texture here is closer to a fluffy frosting than the usual PB thickness.

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The cake was much better than I expected – a moist, velvety, deep chocolate. Very much like the Hostess Cupcakes I adore – which begged the question: why is this a Twinkie and not a Hostess Cupcake? With a big gob of filling in the center and slab of PB icing on top, the flavor may have taken more of a front seat than in the Twinkie. Or – why not this filling with the usual golden Twinkie cake? Have chocolate and peanut butter become so synonymous that we can’t partner them with other flavors?

Overall, I enjoyed these very much, and would buy them again, but might have been in rapturous love had it been a Hostess Cupcake. That’s just my cupcakes bias.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 260 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 10-pack box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Lovely not-too-sweet peanut butter filling. Hostess Cupcake-y cake. Less grease!
Cons: Why isn’t this a Hostess Cupcake? Needs a PB icing and squiggle.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Cotton Candy Twinkies

Limited Edition Cotton Candy Twinkies

I have a sinking suspicion someone from Hostess got drunk at a carnival and had way too much fun with some cute carnies. I envision the deep fried Twinkie stand being manned by a fun young lass who dared the Hostess rep to create the ultimate ode to her and her young child, who was cradling a big wispy whirly stack of cotton candy. Trying to win over her affection he made a promise then and there to put something exclusively on Walmart shelves that would honor her forever, and in that moment, the Cotton Candy Twinkie was born.

Or something like that.

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Pulling out my first cellophane beauty from its cardboard carnival house it’s no surprise that I’m greeted with a lovely smear of grease on the clear plastic, like the Twinkie was desperately trying to escape its factory sealed prison the entire time it was inside.

Releasing the ‘twink from captivity I’m immediately hit with a distinct cotton candy smell, and I’m impressed that I got such a strong aroma even before breaking into the cake. Unfortunately my hands are now already uncomfortably slimy and I’m not even eating bacon. Sigh.

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Biting into the cotton concoction is when the fun really begins. The outside sponge cake is the same as always – greasy and mediocre and has my mouth feeling the same as if my shoulders were endlessly shrugging. The bright pink cream filling legitimately tastes like cotton candy and what I imagine poison tastes like.

What starts as a distinct artificial cotton candy flavor that reminds me of one of my favorite ice creams growing up gradually transforms and finishes with a nagging, astringent, and harsh food dye flavor that is downright bad.

The sweet cotton candy flavor is there, and the texture is represented through the general creamy fluffiness of filling, but everything gets completely washed out by the aftertaste, which lingers and resides over second or third bites – if you can make it that far. The taste is so strong it reminds me of trying to eat something sweet immediately after brushing my teeth, and my mouth and mind join forces to let out one resounding NO.

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Simply put, these are not enjoyable to eat – at all. I’ll give props where props are due to Hostess for actually getting cotton candy flavor into the Twinkie, but if that flavor comes with a side dose of cringe-inducing astringency I will pass, and pass hard.

I’m starting to wonder if the people creating these products are even tasting them before they hit the shelves or if they just assume that everyone who consumes these will be high, drunk, or broken. Steer clear of these unless you legitimately like punishing your tastebuds like some sick twisted S&M carnival-themed eating game.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 260 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 13.59 oz./10 pack
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Uhhh…they actually taste like cotton candy? Momentarily? A pretty blue box? I’m reaching here.
Cons: Awful astringent poison-esque aftertaste. Usual mediocre greasy Twinkie cake. I had to buy ten of them.

REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes Cookies

Keebler Limited Batch Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes Cookies

This is the tragedy of Keebler’s Fudge Stripes cookies – adulthood steals your ability to wear them as a ring.

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As a girl, I delighted in prancing around in pretend evening gowns with a rock of a Fudge Stripe on my finger. Of course, it was far too ostentatious and impractical, so I nibbled around the edges to reduce it to a more modest size.

Inevitably, it would crack and fall apart in the process, so I would have to eat it and start all over again. Now my fully-grown fingers are too thick to sport the beloved shortbread & frosting jewelry of my youth. My FS consumption dropped off considerably.

Then Keebler started wooing me back with “Limited Batch” flavors. Peppermint. Red Velvet. Birthday Cake. Cinnamon Roll. Lemon Cream Pie. I loved them all. I was still a little sore about the ring thing, but I was definitely back in the fold.

Hence, I’d already written this review in my head when I lifted the package of Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes from the grocery shelves. 9 out of 10! How could I NOT love them?

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When I opened the package, I was greeted by the rosy pink color of the base cookie and a strong scent of tangy cheesecake. I wasn’t getting strawberry, however. No worries, I was sure the taste would make up for it.

On first bite, my expected explosion of Frankenberry-ish fake strawberry didn’t materialize. The cheesecake frosting flavor was good despite being a hair more acidic than most cheesecake flavored items. The strawberry shortbread apparently called in sick today, however. Instead of a fruity delight, it tasted more like eating a flour-flavored cookie with a chemical aftertaste. It’s surprising since the last two Fudge Stripes flavor releases, Lemon Cream Pie and Cinnamon Roll, were spot-on with flavor tone and intensity.

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This may be the only time in my life I’ve said this, but I’m probably not going to finish this package of Fudge Stripes. Every bite screams “not worth the calories.” They’re a fail for me.

But Keebler, how ‘bout an adult-finger-size Fudge Stripes release? Eh? Eh?

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, calories from fat (not listed), 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 75 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 10g total sugars incl. 9g added sugars and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 11.5 oz. package
Purchased at: ShopRite
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Great color and tasty cheesecake frosting.
Cons: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Not strawberry.”

REVIEW: Hostess Bakeshop CupCake Cookies

Hostess Bakeshop CupCake Cookies

Everyone has a soulmate snack cake. The one sugary, refined, packaged, and questionably delicious baked good that, despite what logic, fortune cookies, retrogrades of mercury, physician advice, and foreboding messages written in your toast imply, you adore. From SnoBalls to Zingers, Cosmic Brownies to Donettes, we all are star-crossed and bound to one.

And, while I may have had a few flings with a Star Crunch — and maybe a Zebra Cake or two — okay, I love them all. But today my heart’s matched to the Hostess CupCake. Who can resist the oddly fudgy cake? The sugary icing floof? The chocolatey ganache with eight sugary squiggles you can gobble right off the top??

And now they come in cookie form, which, as we well know this is the equivalent of the muffin top of the pastry world, doused in fudge and oozing with icing. I’m hungry just typing that. Let’s dive in!

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Texture-wise, this cookie’s a winner. It’s more cake-like than crispity-crunchity and deftly walks the line between being both fudgy and more fluffy-wuffy than a bunny sleeping on a TempurPedic in a field of dandelions. That fluffy-wuffiness (using scientific terms today) serves the cookie well as it contrasts with the smooth, crisp coating and sugary squiggle.

And the smell only makes everything better. Right out of the package, aromas of chocolate burst out like 15,000 ponies cascading into a Roman Coliseum. It smells of sugar! And cocoa! And that bizarre nutty-coffee sweetness that comes at the end of Dove dark chocolate! (Is there a name for this? Professional Linguist turned Chocolate Connoisseur: please help!)

That said, this top-notch smell doesn’t fully carry over when it comes to flavor. In fact, the cake tastes of very little: mainly flour, but also a hint of cocoa and Maxwell instant coffee. The chocolate coating helps things out by the hair of its chinny chin-chin.

It’s sugar-forward and tastes like Hershey’s milk chocolate while the sugary squiggle tastes of sugar… and maybe a hint of marshmallow? And while I was bummed to discover there was no fluffy icing filling inside (cue the sad tubas!), the coating itself is definitely a step up from that in the typical Hostess CupCake… although I’m pretty sure you could wax a car with that stuff.

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All in all, these buggers end up tasting like those soft-baked Snackwell’s chocolate cookies: a not-so-exciting cake with a sugary, semi-chocolatey icing. While they were tasty enough, I found myself dreaming nostalgically of that fluffy white filling in a regular Hostess CupCake. Without it, the cake lacks pizazz.

If you give these a whirl, I encourage smooshing two cookies together with ice cream and/or questionably emulsified (but impossibly delicious) whipped topping to mimic the effect. Without that? These will be but mediocre, and you deserve better than mediocre, dear reader! Do not settle for bland cookies. Otherwise, there will be sadness, the ship will be down, the Titanic will be sunk, and you will be floating on a makeshift raft made out of a door as you talk nonsense to your frozen lover while Celine Dion sings over flute music in the moonlight, and no matter how long you say, “I’ll never let go,” you gotta let go.

So I’m letting go of you, Hostess CupCake Cookies. Or at least not buying you again without a Costco-sized vat of whipped topping. I may have built you up as lofty dreams in my head, but, as Celine Dion prophesized in 1998, “my heart will go on and ooooon.”

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cookie – 110 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 1 pack/10 cookies
Purchased at: Von’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Fudgy, fluffy cookie texture. Chocolatey icing. Squiggles! 15,000 ponies cascading into a Roman Coliseum.
Cons: No fluffy filling. Chocolatey smell doesn’t fully carry over in flavor. Not-so-exciting cake flavor of flour and cheap coffee. May have Celine Dion song stuck in head for the rest of the day.