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: 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: Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Among the world of berries, raspberries are a hard sell. They’re bitter, rot fast, and are filled with teeny pulp bits that get stuck in your teeth, but they also have a distinct sweet, flowery profile that I crave at the inconvenient hour of now, when they’re overpriced, out-of-season, and tasteless.

Which is why I bit into the surface of my Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cup Cake without hesitation, cracking through the sheen of the fudgy top layer. That upper crust carries the responsibility of the “Dark Chocolate” title, and, while I wouldn’t deem it a full-blown 70 percent cacao by any stretch of the imagination, there is a certain nutty, semisweet chocolate echo at the front that I appreciate before I reach the full sugar surge underneath.

And it’s a clutter of sugary fluff under that surface, the glurping, gloopy icing poofing out like a misfit marshmallow. That frosting floof carries the texture of Cool Whip and a raspberry perfume that could rival a Bath and Body Works. Indeed, it has an artificial raspberry kick at the forefront with a high-fructose-sugary backdrop. It’s like Pillsbury frosting got put in the Super Collider with Raspberry Jelly Bellies. Pretty intense in that special, non-natural way.

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The chocolate cake is of a familiar Hostess Cupcake variety: a little oily, a little spongy, a little ho-hum on flavor, all held within a distinctive squishy texture that may or may not remind me of a Shamwow. It tastes quite simply of packaged pound cake with a little cocoa, and, while I may hope for something a little more chocolate-forward, I respect that the cake embraces what it is: a vehicle that can be enhanced by the addition of ice cream.

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In 1971, Hostess introduced Captain Cupcake, the rotund, spyglass-wielding naval officer who ate a few too many Hostess Chocolate cupcakes before turning into one. What would Captain Cupcake say about these new Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes?

I can’t say. This is mainly because Captain Cupcake is an anthropomorphic baked good with a position in the Navy, and I would regret speaking for such a high-ranking officer. For me, however, these cupcakes were neither a bonafide hit nor a heartbreaking miss.

The floofy raspberry filling was pleasant enough, the chocolate cake was moist, and the icing top held a pleasant semisweet fudginess. At the same time, the cake was a little tasteless, the preservatives were a little over abundant (is hydrogenated beef tallow really an essential ingredient?), and the false raspberry lingered a little long, but, hey, it’s tough to alter the austerity of false raspberry.

Overall, I declare this a decent cupcake for the forthcoming Valentine’s celebration. What’s better is that you’ll wait in no lines to get it, withdraw no loan to afford it, and can eat it at any hour you desire. All it takes is ripping open a plastic wrapper and maybe some ice cream. This can happen. This can happen now.

(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, 220 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.5 oz/8 cupcakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Tender cake. Fudgy icing top. Floofy filling like Cool Whip. 8 swirls of icing. Mario Kart. Captain Cupcake.
Cons: Hydrogenated beef tallow. Filling tastes a smidge like children’s toothpaste. Texture like a Super Shammy. Smells from Bath and Body Works, The unexplained disappearance of Captain Cupcake.

REVIEW: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Every time I see a bag of Angie’s kettle corn with the words “BOOM CHICKA POP” in gigantic type, 70’s porn music pops into my head. Why? Because “bow chicka wow wow” is like the emoji for porn movie music.

But I did not buy Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn because of the porn music bumpin’ in my head. I bought it because there hasn’t been an Angie’s Holidrizzle flavor that’s disappointed me, and I thought this flavor would continue that streak.

And you’ve probably figured out that by ending the previous paragraph with that sentence, I’ve pretty much told you I did not care for this hot cocoa and marshmallow-flavored kettle corn.

Opening the bag brings out a pleasant Cracker Jack—like aroma, but one opened bag and two minutes later I asked myself, “Where did Angie’s go wrong?”

The front of the bag says, “contains nothing but ingredients you’ll love.” Cane sugar…love. Popcorn…love. Sunflower oil…like. Palm kernel oil…like. Nonfat dry milk…like. Cocoa powder…love. Sea salt…love. Natural flavors…not sure what they are. Soy lecithin…I could go either way.

So I love most of its ingredients, but I don’t love its flavor. It just doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t come close to tasting anything like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times, there’s a flavor that reminds me of toffee. But at other times, there’s a flavor that I would describe as sweet plastic. Maybe the kettle corn’s flavor is an abstract interpretation of hot cocoa and marshmallows, and the sweet plasticiness represents the marshmallow and its pliability.

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Where does this sweet plastic flavor come from? My guess is that I should be blaming the chocolate drizzle, which fortunately wasn’t liberally drizzled over the kettle corn. But once the chocolate drizzle melts away, it tastes like standard kettle corn.

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn isn’t gross enough to make me throw away four-fifths of the bag, go back to Target to demand my money back, or use it as coal in a Christmas stocking to punish the naughty. After all, I did end up finishing the bag, albeit slowly. But out of all the new hot cocoa-flavored products I’ve tried this year, this has got to be my least favorite.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 cups – 140 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 4.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Not totally gross. Least favorite hot cocoa-flavored product I’ve tried this season. Contains ingredients that I love.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times it has a sweet plastic flavor. Having 70’s porn music pop up in my head every time I see a bag of Angie’s popcorn.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Peppermint Ho Hos

Hostess Limited Edition Peppermint Ho Hos

How the Grinch Stole Hostess

The Grinch plotted again how to ruin the holidays.
Though it was only November and they were still far away!
He planned to steal all the cheer from every household and home.
Not a holiday was safe: no Christmas, Kwanzaa, or “shalom.”

He slunk down each chimney, having his treacherous fun.
Only once did a fire scorch his furry green buns.
But in the last house, whilst piling gifts in his sack,
He smelled something sweet that took him aback.

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Sneering at what the foolish kids had left out for Santa Claus,
He grabbed the strange brown cylinders with his foul, dirty paws.
“These aren’t cookies,” he said. “They’re Peppermint Ho Hos from Hostess!”
“When it came to minty pink cream, these are said to have the most-est!”

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“These snacks are so cheery,” said The Grinch. “I’ll gobble them down!”
“Without their merry Devil’s food cake, all the people will frown!”
But the Grinch gasped at the serving: “380 calories? Who eats three?”
“Meh, I deserve it. Being evil makes a Grinch hungry!”

His yellow teeth broke the chocolate coating; it shattered into bits.
“A wonderful mess,” he spewed. “The maid will throw fits!”
But he found the Ho Ho’s exterior to be much too waxy and bland.
“I’d get more chocolate flavor from a brown RoseArt crayon!”

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The sponge cake beneath was also merely so-so.
It was airy and quite chewy, with only traces of cocoa.
The Grinch wondered how it could be so un-sweet with 14 grams of sugar.
Some Hostess cakes were moist; this was as dry as his plucked boogers!

But then he reached the cream, and his opinion did sway.
“This novel pink goo could make anyone’s day!”
“It’s more thick than a Twinkie’s; that whipped crap’s just exhausting.”
“This is pleasantly gritty, rich and dense like buttercream frosting!”

As for mint flavor, it was there: but not burning or biting.
Balanced by vanilla, it was refreshing and exciting!
Yet, he’d be hard pressed to call it distinctly peppermint cuisine.
With his crusty eyes closed, it tasted just like spearmint or wintergreen.

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He scarfed down another Ho Ho whole, whilst trashing the family’s wreath.
“The soft choco-mint together’s like a Thin Mint…made for those without teeth!”
The Grinch thought they’d make great party favors: a fine novelty treat.
The cream was memorable, but the purchase wouldn’t be a repeat.

The Grinch cackled and left, ready to watch all the fuss.
“Little Cindy will learn new words when she hears Daddy cuss!”
The next morning he peered down from his horrible hill,
But saw nothing but cheer, A Christmas Story marathons, and goodwill!

“Christmas came without Ho Hos,” he murmured. “It came without Cupcakes!”
“It came without Little Debbie, Entenmann’s, or Drake’s!”
“Maybe holidays,” he thought slowly, “don’t come from processed food.”
“Maybe holidays are about who you’re with, not just what is chewed.”

So the Grinch went back into town, and returned what he stole.
Perhaps this year Santa wouldn’t gift him a metric s*** ton of coal.
Legends say the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day!
Though that was probably the 6 grams of fat per Ho Ho, his doctor would say.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 cakes – 380 calories, 17 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 55 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 43 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Peppermint Ho Hos
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 10 pack
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Inventive and thick cream. Squishy, tubular Thin Mint understudies. Avoiding the obvious “Ho Ho Hos” joke. Learning life lessons through snack cake fan fiction. The delightful irony of “Christmas Devil’s food cake.”
Cons: The Ho Hos’ so-so cocoa. Coating shatters faster than a leg lamp. Santa-sized serving sizes. An inevitable law-Seuss from Dr. Seuss’ attorneys.