REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

As the great poetic lyricist Gwen Stefani once soulfully crooned: “This s*** is bananas: B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”

And if any one song lyric best encapsulates the essence of these new Hostess Banana Split Twinkies, it’s that one. Because even though their appearance is remarkably fecal, beneath that waxy brown exterior is a surprisingly delightful banana treat. In fact, perhaps “Bananaphone” by the legendary symphonist Raffi is a more fitting track, because once you try these, you’ll want to get on the phone and tell your friends.

Sporting a blinding yellow box, a product photo that hypnotically radiates a white aura, and a guest appearance by those seemingly omnipresent Minions (we get it: they like bananas), Hostess is firing on all sensory cylinders in order to make you buy this product.

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The box describes the Twinkies as “frosted cake with artificially flavored strawberry topping and banana creme filling.” The idea of Banana Creme Twinkies and Chocodiles having a sugary love-child is enough to draw me in, but the unique strawberry kicker makes these even more interesting. To paraphrase DiCaprio: “Hostess, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”

Since these are Banana Split Twinkies, there was no better way for me to eat one than to cleave it in twain vertically and observe its many layers like a spongy version of one of those Star Wars cross-section books.

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Beneath the chocolate crust of Planet Twinkie lies a thin jam layer with a few sporadically spaced, strangely square strawberry land mines. After these is a sponge cake mantle which guards the tempting pale yellow creme core. Ready your best Brendan Fraser impression, kids; we’re journeying to the center of the Twinkie.

The fragile chocolate coating’s flavor is far from distinct: heavy on the generic, cloying sugar taste and light on any real cocoa richness. Yet, I find myself okay with this because the chocolate simply isn’t meant to be the star of the show. The same goes for the rare strawberry clusters, which provide little more than a slight fruity burst and an interesting textural contrast. The golden cake section is doughy and dense, yet tame; like the vanilla ice cream it is meant to imitate, it exists only to provide a springboard for the creme center to perform its tasty alley-oop.

Because, as with many of Hostess’ new products, the creme makes the cake. Despite the artificial flavorings, it’s impressive how authentic the banana taste was. If I were to score the realism of the creme on my patented “Bananometer” (try spelling that, Gwen), which ranges from “Banana Laffy Taffy” to “uhh, that’s an actual banana,” it would land closer to the latter.

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Eaten all together, I can earnestly say this cake does taste like a banana split. Like a good glass of wine with cheese or an Exodia deck in Yu-Gi-Oh, the parts work together to unlock each other’s true potential. With the banana flavor rightfully dominating, the strawberry nodules explode and support it with an appreciated bit of tartness, while the chocolate and sponge cake compliment the fruity sweetness with a buttery one. If you’re in the mood for a banana split, but not the work that comes with it, just pop one of these in the freezer, and you won’t be disappointed.

Somewhere, deep within a Hostess laboratory, is a team of flavor scientists who labored endlessly to perfect this flavor balance, and I give them praise. Bravo to you, certified “Bananologists.”

(My apologies again to Ms. Stefani.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 9 cakes
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a banana split. Balanced hierarchy of flavors. Satisfactory Bananometer results. Illegitimate snack cake children. Raffi.
Cons: Sporadic strawberry usage. Probably won’t win over banana haters. “Crappy” first impressions. Market over-saturation of Minions. Banana Laffy Taffy.

REVIEW: Keebler Jif Cookies

Keebler Jif Cookies

If it’s really true that “Choosy Moms Choose Jif,” then that raises some interesting questions about these new Keebler Jif Cookies. Namely: with so many cookies to choose from, what do Keebler Elf mothers pack for their kids’ lunches?

All lingering questions regarding Keebler biology aside (if E.L. Fudge cookies are anatomically correct, then how can the Elves reproduce with fudge for guts?), my guess is that it’s these peanut buttery delights.

Why? Because eating them is like taking a nostalgic trip back to elementary school lunchtime. Allow me to guide you through the simulation:

As Mrs. Hartwell continues to drone on about the importance of “the cursive capital I,” all you can think about is how the letter kinda looks like an octopus holding a cup of tea. So you stare at her bizarre facial mole until the third period bell rings, heralding in the best part of the day: lunch. As everyone clamors to the haphazardly cleaned tables, you explore the depths of your Tiny Toon Adventures lunchbox. Tossing aside a Grape Capri Sun (Pacific Cooler is a way better flavor) and egg salad sandwich (shudder), you strike brown gold: a Ziploc full of Keebler Jif Cookies!

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With a scent like the oily innards of a Reese’s Cup wafting out of the baggy, you catch the hopeful stare of Benny Thompson. No way are you trading your cookies for his Fruit Roll-Up this time. You bite into one of the bumpy, fudge-coated rings (but not before wearing it like a mock pinky ring, as it’s perfectly sized for your young hands) and release an exaggerated “Mmmm!” Benny hides his jealousy with a Fruit Roll-Up.

They certainly aren’t attractive cookies, with the glossy fudge and protruding nuts making them look like something that Scooter, your family Basset Hound, would leave behind for the neighbor kids to put in a flaming paper bag. The fudge melts fast, too, so you hope no one misinterprets the brown smudges on your hands.

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Analyzing every layer reveals the treat as deceptively complicated. The cookie center is crispy and airy with a pleasant taste of cocoa. This is surrounded by a layer of diced peanuts that add a contrasting crunch texture and a bit of earthy saltiness to balance the resounding sweetness of the fudge, which is a bit overbearingly rich in that “you’ll be tasting this on your tongue for hours” kind of way. It’s strong enough to override the unique creaminess provided by the thin layer of Jif peanut butter inside, which is a shame, because the rare instances when the Jif’s nutty gooeyness shines through are the cookie’s most memorable parts.

After school, you immediately raid the cupboards before mom gets home. As any child would, you experiment and craft a sinful PB&J hors d’oeuvre that looks vaguely like Jabba the Hutt.

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Cookies like these naturally evoke such childlike creativity. Yes, it’s ridiculous, fattening, and a bit unnecessary, but it’s also the kind of experience you’ll remember fondly in 10 years.

At the end of the day, that’s just what these cookies are: an enjoyable escapade, but a forgettable flavor. As good as it is, it’s been done before: when absentmindedly stuffed into your mouth, the many flavors amalgamate and ultimately remind you of two very familiar ones: it’s just like a Keebler Fudge Stripe and a Little Debbie Nutty Bar made sweet, sweet love and had salty-sweet children.

Not that your elementary school self understood how that works, right?

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 170 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Keebler Jif Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.78
Size: 8 oz./15 cookies
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Jif peanut butter MVP. Fun contrasting textures. Evoking childlike whimsy. “Jabba the Peanutt.”
Cons: Not enough Jif. Loses complexity when crammed in mouth. Fudge fingers. Distracting moles. Egg salad.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cup Cakes

Is this what Captain Cupcake died for?

For the unaware or forgetful, Captain Cupcake was just one of Hostess’ many attempts from the ’70s and ’80s to follow up on Twinkie the Kid’s popularity and anthropomorphize all of their sweet treats. A mustachioed “cap-cake,” the good captain defended his fellow cream-filled treats from all manner of cartoon peril.

But now…he’s dead. Yes, while “the Kid” lives on, Captain Cupcake has faded into obscurity, along with Happy Ho Ho, Fruit Pie the Magician, and others. And without him to protect the proud chocolate legacy of the Hostess Cupcake, the treats have met with the worst peril of all: buzzwords.

We should have seen it coming when Hostess released Strawberry Cupcakes back in 2011. But no, we shrugged it off as “just a phase.” But then came Red Velvet Cupcakes earlier this year, and suddenly we knew that the “flavor of the month” bandwagon had snatched our darling Cupcakes for good. That’s why it was no surprise to see these new Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes hit shelves: the squiggled snack we once munched with integrity had become…one of them. We’re sorry, Captain Cupcake. We’ve failed you.

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But as Mark Twain, the inspiration for the short-lived “Hostess Twainkie,” once wrote: “don’t judge a cake by its wrapper.” (Note: none of that actually happened.) So I’ll go in unbiased. Removing the diminutive cake (are they getting smaller, or am I just getting older?) from its plastic prison, the strong scent of processed cake and caramel hits harder than an industrial salt truck. You know your grandma’s bowl of dusty Werther’s caramel candy that hasn’t been touched since Eisenhower’s presidency? These cakes smell like those did back in their glory days.

The box describes them as “caramel iced yellow cake with sea salt topping and caramel cream filling.” To examine all these new features, I split my cake like a frog in 5th-grade biology class (appetizing, no?). The first half was to be used for rigid, scientific analysis. The other…for unceremoniously stuffing in my cake-hole.

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The yellow cake is like a more dense Twinkie: sticky, sweet, and a little buttery, but plain enough to provide a neutral playing field for the cake’s other features. Eaten alone, the light mahogany icing is a bit too cloying, the slight flavor—which was more butterscotch than caramel—was marred by the overbearing punch of saccharine. The small, salty granules sprinkled throughout also carry very little taste on their own; their impact was so little that I wondered whether they were purely decorative.

Instead, it is the cream that is the hero here. Colored like normal cream that someone scribbled on with a Burnt Sienna Crayola crayon, it mixes that quintessential “Hostess cream” whipped vanilla flavor with an earthy, rich caramel one to make something unique.

But this cake really is a sum of its parts. Optimistically stuffing the other half in my mouth, what came next was nothing short of Shakespearean. With the sponge cake acting as the stage, the sweet frosting and savory saltiness (eating many grains makes the salt flavor actually noticeable) battled for supremacy, until the peacekeeping caramel creme unified them to produce a balanced snack cake experience that was complex and true to the salted caramel name.

I take back all I said before. Captain Cupcake isn’t rolling over in his grave; he’s saluting! And, oh, what’s that? I think I can hear the Captain’s voice echoing from the great beyond:

“Just…stop them…before they make…Sriracha Cupcakes.”

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.96
Size: 12.7 oz. box (8 cakes)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Balanced and salty-sweet when eaten together. Inventive cream. Well-choreographed snack cake theatre. Youthful Werther’s candy.
Cons: Overbearing icing. Underwhelming granules. Perceived snack cake shrinkage. Dissection metaphors. Mourning Captain Cupcake.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Red Velvet CupCakes

Hostess Limited Edition Red Velvet Cup Cakes

Now that both Christmas and New Year’s Eve have passed, it’s time to start planning for the next holiday: Valentine’s Day. This February 14, I got me a hot date with a box of Hostess Red Velvet CupCakes and back-to-back viewings of Road House. Perks of the single life.

Nah, I’m just kidding. I have a girlfriend, and she ain’t too crazy about Swayze. She’ll probably force me to watch The Notebook. At least I’ll have these red velvet cupcakes to keep me company while I suffer through lumberjack Ryan Gosling sucking Rachel McAdams’ face in the rain.

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The limited edition Red Velvet CupCakes are a spin on Hostess’ signature chocolate cupcakes — those ubiquitous, cream-filled treats decorated with a white swirl. The cakes are made of a red velvet base, topped with frosting, and filled with a cream center, all in an appropriate Valentine’s Day color scheme.

It only took a single bite for the disappointment to set in.

With regard to flavor, these red velvet cupcakes feel like a weak imitation of their chocolate counterparts. The sugary cream filling tastes identical, but the red velvet base and frosting offer only the slightest hint of chocolate. As a whole, the red velvet cupcake seems to highlight the flavor of the cream filling. Whereas the chocolate in the original cupcake masked many of the Hostess cake’s imperfections, the lighter red velvet cupcake emphasizes these flaws. The result is one unfulfilling snack: a dense, greasy cupcake with a one-dimensional sweetness.

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These cupcakes are boring and uninspired, and I honestly expected more from such a prominent brand. I’m well aware that red velvet cake is simply chocolate cake dyed red, but Hostess had the potential to be a bit more creative. Why not try a cream cheese frosting? Instead, we’ve been given a generic sugar frosting.

Hostess’ Red Velvet CupCakes bring nothing to the table aside from restrained flavors and a color swap — both pointless modifications to the staple chocolate cupcake. (Not literal staples. It’s never a good idea to mix office supplies and desserts. I discovered this the hard way, after my infamous Paperclip Tiramisu sent five people to the hospital for stomach surgery.)

They’re not unbearable. I just see no reason to buy these in favor of Hostess’ chocolate cupcakes, which are clearly the superior snack cakes.

This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to forego these cupcakes and spend your money elsewhere. May I recommend a DVD copy of Road House?

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 170 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams of total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Red Velvet CupCakes
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 8 cakes/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Taste like imitation Hostess chocolate cupcakes.
Cons: Lighter flavor highlights the flaws of Hostess’ cakes. Uninspired color change. Generic frosting, not cream cheese flavored. Paperclip Tiramisu.