REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Peppermint Fudge Stripes Cookies

Keebler Limited Batch Peppermint Fudge Stripes Cookies

Candy Canes and Cookies.

It has a cute ring to it, doesn’t it? Like the title of a baking blog, or a children’s Christmas story, or even a specialty store that sells holiday-themed socks. But eaten together?

Sure, we’ve had Candy Cane Oreo Cookies, but a part of me has always felt the confection world should never be combined with the creaming method world. It’s sort of like fish and cheese. Conventional wisdom tells us these things just don’t “go” together, and far be it for drumming up iconoclasm once Christmas comes around.

Keebler Limited Batch Peppermint Fudge Stripes Cookies change all that. It really shouldn’t be a surprise; I mean, these are cookies baked by magical elves. Yes, they may live in a tree owned by Kellogg’s, but I like to think of the Keebler elves as cousins to Santa’s elves, except more proficient in cookie making than toy making.

And let me tell you something: The Keebler elves nail the cookie thing here, just like how Santa’s elves nailed my 1997 request for a Nintendo Gameboy. The familiar shortbread cookie base is crunchy, buttery, and not overpoweringly sweet; small bursts of red nonpareils lend a sweet sugar cookie vibe, while the white fudge coating further adds to the frosting-like texture of the cookie.

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As for the peppermint taste, it’s right where it needs to be. The danger with peppermint anything is that the floral, light taste of mint overwhelms the taste buds and makes you feel like you’re eating a Tic-Tac. Thankfully, that is not the case with these cookies. The peppermint taste is there, but it’s not that rush of winter freshness that comes from binging on a box of candy canes (pro tip: not good). Instead, the floral taste gives a cool relief to the frosting-like white fudge, which has a rich vanilla sweetness.

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While Keebler’s elves are clearly taking a page from Santa’s elves in the design of a Christmas themed cookie, what they haven’t managed to do is perfect a flawless packaging and delivery system. The same nonresealable package that plagues Fudge Stripes houses the limited edition cookie, while the white fudge coating had melted by the time I opened the package. The ensuing peppermint white fudge, while lickable and probably awesome on cupcakes, was stickier and harder to wash off my paws than the sugar coating of a half-eaten candy cane.

You gotta give it to the Keebler elves. After years of offering plain Fudge Stripes (which are delicious) they’ve tinkered their treehouse production facilities and expanded into pumpkin spice, birthday cake, cookies & creme, and now peppermint. I’m not saying these would be a great cookie to leave out for Santa, but yeah, with the frosted shortbread cookie vibe, crunchy vanilla, and peppermint sweetness, I am kind of saying that.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories from fat, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of sat fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fiber, and less than 1 gram of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.00
Size: 11.5 oz
Purchased at: United Supermarkets
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Fresh and floral peppermint taste that doesn’t linger on your tongue like a candy cane. Crunchy shortbread cookie with rich white fudge and crunchy vanilla flavor. Would make a solid seasonal ice cream sandwich base.
Cons: Keebler’s absolute reluctance to embrace resealable packaging. White fudge coating can melt and be messy. Limited appeal for non-peppermint lovers. The politics of elf family trees.

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: 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.