REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Ever since buying this tub, I’ve woken up to a THWUMB, THWUMB, THWUMB outside my window. Upon investigating, I find nothing at the window. I am convinced it is a) a very stupid pigeon, b) the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe, or c) a telepathic message from Professor X that states, “Margaret…you’re a Mutant. You must join the X-Men!” No matter which, it’s clear this thing eats cookie butter cups and wants them bad, but can’t quite figure out the whole “opening the window” thing (hence why it is not a breed of hyper-intelligent monkey or particularly creepy human).

But it makes perfect sense for this creature to try to get in every morning to obtain this little tub of aluminum-studded cups. Let me tell you why.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups TJ Cookie Butter cup escapes from foil

Sparing us from frippery of fluted cups, Trader Joe’s delivers a simple, complete concept right out of the golden foil. The size of a mini Reese’s Cup but with a firmer, darker outer shell, these start off with a striking visual impression, a sensation that swiftly carries over to the taste.

This is not a hyper-sugared confection that coats your tongue, no glucose-ridden lozenge that burns as it courses down as if the Almighty were ripping out your trachea. No, this is just quality semisweet chocolate, dark, bitter, and smooth like a 1965 Clint Eastwood riding out into the vengeance-ridden dusk.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup insides!!

Stuffed into each nub is a generous helping of cookie butter paste. Smooth, but slightly crumbly, that inner spread tastes of the named pulverized Speculoos cookies, highlighting the oat-cinnamon streusel notes. This filling, coupled with the woodsy, coffee-wisped chocolate, pushes this candy to the top, the cream of the crop, the Chrome Viking Refrigerators of confectionary-dom.

Just one problemo: there are only 28. Sure, it’s a pretty good number, but for $4.99, I do wish there were a few more. Desperate to hold on for as long as possible, I tried to ration them out. Like today: I’ll only have 2 cups…or maybe 3…or 4…

(2 hours later, upon emptying tub)

Sugar is GOOD!!! I feel I could pick up a lawnmower and fling it across a baseball field! I am invincible! I am unstoppable! I AM a Mutant!

(1 hour later, upon going to Home Depot and looking at lawnmowers)

I overestimated myself. I am not a Mutant. I am not even an Animorph. I am more like the lanky, awkward teenager hired to stand outside the store dressed in a paper mache koala suit. Nothing near a Mutant. Just a mortal, attempting to down a bag of sugar, chocolate, and crumbled cookies.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup sculpture

But maybe that’s okay. It certainly doesn’t make these cookie butter cups any less delicious. With such quality semisweet chocolate and a good ratio of cookie butter stuffed in each, who needs to be a mutated superhero? Maybe I could become one if I were to share these with that creature that rattles at my window, but me? Share these? I think I would rather be trampled by a fleet of rabid pigeons.*

*Not sure if pigeons can contract rabies.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 pieces – 180 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 11 oz. tub
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Smooth chocolate. Crumbly insides. Streusel-like filling. Nice balance of sugary insides to bittersweet outsides. Provides you with enough energy to throw a lawnmower. Messages from Professor X.
Cons: Those sensitive to dark chocolate may be sad. Runs out quickly. I am not a Mutant. Rabid pigeons.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Candy Corn Creme Bars

Hershey's Candy Corn Bar

If we’re going to continue to be friends, I feel there are a few things you should know about me. One is that I have learned most of my morals from a VHS copy of The Muppet Show and my bearded Uncle Bumsford who told me stories while flinging an ax into a stump in the backyard. Another is that I don’t mind, even downright enjoy, preservative-laden stuff. So long as the preservatives are working in the product’s favor, I see no flim or flaw. Bring me thy Jell-o pudding, thy toaster pastries, thy individually wrapped Little Debbies!

And that’s where these come in.

With enough Vegetable Oil Compounds to create an artistic rendering of the Icelandic glaciers, this new Hershey’s Candy Corn Bar is not one to illicit positive reviews from the authors of the USDA food pyramid, but neither does candy corn. Candy corn celebrates the odd, the waxy, the culinarily questionable ingredients, and if there’s anyone who’s familiar with handling questionable confectionary ingredients, it’s Hershey’s. Sure, sometimes things go awry in the Hershey lab, but I continue to put my Halloween faith in their corporate clutches. Am I foolish? Open-minded? Just outright idiotic? Let’s find out.

Hershey's Candy Corn Bar Candy Corn as a sugary little block

There is a distinct sweetness of candy corn that, when mulled with preservatives, creates a hyper-sweet sensation that is appealing to the sugar-inclined individual. It tastes of wax and corn syrup solids, maybe a hint of plastic and, guess what? That’s what these bars are made of: waxy stuff and corn syrup. Sugary and quick to melt, the bars are pleasant in that dairy milk confection way, making them easy to nibble as they get goopy all over your hands in 82-degree weather. It’s terrifying and awesome.

However, unlike candy corn, Hershey’s seems to have skipped the whole “honey” ingredient, which, in some respects, is a good thing. For example, you won’t have to worry about being attacked by a hungry honey bear or a swarm of vengeful bees. On the not-as-positive end, the bars don’t have the strong distinguishing taste that honey provides. In fact, they don’t have any particular taste. No vanilla. No rum. Just sugar.

If I close my eyes and use my imagination, there’s something slightly fruity at the end as if someone spliced Cadbury Egg Crème with dehydrated strawberry nubs, but it’s more about the abundance of sugar and texture: melty, melty, melty. While not a stunner on its own, I imagine all that Melting Sugar Goo would making an excellent fall s’more smashed between two Pumpkin Pop-Tarts and a chocolate marshmallow. As Uncle Bumsford always said: a s’more always solves your “What the hell do I do with all this mediocre candy?” problems.

Hershey's Candy Corn Bar interior

These little bars are pretty good. Are they made of lavender honey harvested from a flowery meadow by the Andrena hattorfiana bumblebees? No, but neither is candy corn. To expect otherwise would be unfair. By the abundance of sugar alone, these did a modest job at reimagining the experience of chomping on fistfuls of candy corn. While the dull, vegetable-oiled flavor leaves room for growth, at $3.69, I really can’t grumble too much.

If you’re a fan of corn syrup or drinking Cadbury Crème straight from the shell, you shall enjoy this. It will give you a good dose of sugar and Carnauba Wax, and sometimes that’s all you need to get to the next house for All Hallow’s Eve.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 bars – 200 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Hershey’s Candy Corn Creme Bars
Purchased Price: $3.69
Size: 9.45 oz bag
Purchased at: Kmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Melty. Perfect for Cadbury Crème lovers. Supports the cause of Trick-or-Treaters. Uncle Bumsford. VHS series of The Muppet Show.
Cons: No defining flavor aside from sugar. Carbauna wax. Grumpy USDA Food Pyramid authors. Vengeful bumblebees.

REVIEW: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's

At what point should we start to be concerned that the usually delicious array of autumnal-inspired treats and sweets are becoming a victim of their own lofty standards?

Up until recently I was inclined to say never. I mean, when unlikely superstars like Pumpkin Pie Pringles and Candy Corn Oreo augment standbys like apple cider donuts and pumpkin spice cookies, fall products have earned a reputation as reliable as the leaves hitting the ground each September and October. It’s part of what makes this time of the year so special for food lovers, and no doubt the reason Walmarts and Targets everywhere rush in the latest creations of mass-produced seasonality earlier and earlier each year.

Now though, I’m not so sure if every apple or pumpkin product will be a hit. My doubts started last year with the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, and have been confirmed by the new Candy Apple M&M’s.

That’s right; even graced by the seductive presence of a high risk spokeswoman, there’s nothing particularly memorable or sexy about the new Candy Apple M&M’s. And there’s definitely nothing candy apple or autumnal about the flavor.

It shouldn’t have been this way. On first inspection, it sounds like a brilliant idea; the perfect marriage of cloyingly sweet and sticky hard shell coating and mellow milk chocolate paired with the prerequisite cinnamon spice for depth and artificial apple tartness for, well, tartness. Dare I say, they could have even thrown some caramel in there, and heck, why not peanuts? Granted it’s difficult to execute the ultimate nightmare for dentists in something less than the size of a quarter, but c’mon, this is M&M’s people. I mean, they stuck a friggin’ pretzel between chocolate and shell. That’s like sending a man to the moon compared with developing the simple flavors of a candy apple.

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's Closeup

Alas, it was not to be. The only things vaguely reminiscent of a candy apple in these M&M’s are the color and shape. Upon first taste a vague notion of cinnamon spice, more reminiscent of hot cinnamon candies than tart Granny Smith encased in hardened syrup, inhabits the candy coating. At least, I think its cinnamon. Come to think of it, maybe its clove, or perhaps nutmeg or ginger. Yes, that’s it, nutmeg and ginger. Almost nonexistent in intensity but there nonetheless, like the imaginary friend I sat with at the lunch table in second grade.

You heard me, imaginary friend.

I pop another M&M in my mouth and I’m starting to question if that cinnamon taste was ever really there, just as I questioned why Teddy my old chum at Rockhill Elementary wouldn’t trade me his Dunkaroos for my carrot sticks (I never did get an answer.) Allowing the M&M to dissolve into a familiar if not pedestrian chocolate flavor, I’m suddenly left with the taste of nothing more than that mild chocolate. Don’t get me wrong; chocolate is great and all (hey, maybe even good for me!) but as I finish the M&M I can’t pick up anything unique or different about these from standard M&M’s. Like the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s there really isn’t much going on here; just chocolate and shell and maybe a little bit of artificial vanilla flavor, combining with that sort of waxy debris of chewed-up M&M that sticks in the nooks and crannies around your molars.

I don’t think I’ve been as frustrated in a fall food product since, well, ever. The worst part about the Candy Apple M&M’s is that they speak to what has really been a series of mediocre limited edition flavors. I’m not just talking about last year’s Pumpkin Spice duds, but also the Red Velvet flavor, and some of the other seasonal spinoffs which seem more package art than taste sensations. Altogether, it’s a disturbing trend for a candy that has had great success with iconic flavors like Mint and Peanut Butter. But perhaps it’s a needed reminder that not every fall-themed sweet can live up to expectations.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Classic M&M’s taste and texture in slightly larger form. Only ten calories per M&M, as opposed to hundreds in an actual candy apple. Always enjoyable M&M’s commercials.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like a candy apple in the least. No tart flavor of apple or sticky sweetness of coating. M&M’s fragments stuck in your molars. Attempted seduction by a chocolate candy. Imaginary friends.

REVIEW: Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road Bar

STOP! Put your hand down. Just…put it down. That’s right. I know you want the regular Snickers. It’s tempting. Chocolate shell, gooey caramel, chunky peanuts. I get it. It’s enough to turn the most depressed, calloused pick-ax-yielder into a skipping, self-expressive frolicker who makes dainty floral arrangements. The magic that is chocolate, caramel, and peanut-y goo knows no bounds.

At the same time, such magic can become slightly dulled, jaded by the soft familiarity of repetition and safety. No shame in going the safe route with a Snickers, but if you’re looking to add a little depth to your chocolate, a little vanilla to your nougat, a little metaphorical fabric softener to what may otherwise be a stiff Snickers routine, then may I present to you a source of salvation in the form of a 1.73-ounce bar.

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road Bar Gooey fluffy goo yum

Watch as it draws you in like a hungry piñata craving candy for its belly.

Immediately upon opening the wrapper, one can tell this is the stuff of alchemy, the product of some wizard and his highly skilled protégé. Just look at that semisweet chocolate. That gooey caramel. Heck, if you crunch at just the right angle, you can hear the magical wizard dust talking to you, which, now that I think on it, brings up an abundance of questions: When did wizard dust gain the evolutionary skills to perform linguistic communication? And how did said talking dust particles survive being compressed into a bar? Are they indestructible? Does this mean they will outlast the human species?? How can I leave behind a positive legacy before I rot and decay and get replaced by magical wizard dust??!

After getting all anxious about my mortality, I realize I never would’ve contemplated looking for more ways to act positively today had it not been for eating this bar, so thank you, Snickers, for sponsoring this brief philosophical tangent.

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road Bar Yum yum yum

The Snickers’ dashing good looks graciously transfer themselves over to the flavor. The crispy, semisweet chocolate shell holds a sweet, gritty melt with a hint of coffee, making for an experience that reminds me of Dove Dark Chocolate squares without the inspirational quotes. The original malt nougat has been replaced with a fluff of starch-white vanilla fluff. The taste is outright sweet with hints of vanilla extract popping through each bite, adding a surprising sparkle to the darker chocolate much like a firework. But without a fuse. Or fire hazards. Or charcoal-enhanced lighting patterns in the sky. Okay, so maybe nothing like a firework.

The caramel is the only element that seems to have directly transferred itself from the original, and it is a welcome element, indeed. Thankfully, it remains the sweet, stringy goo of the original, making for an excellent canal upon which to hold nubbins of nuts, and like a good pair of cufflinks, those nuts add the perfect finishing touch. In this case, the peanuts have been replaced by almonds, which are fresh and slightly toasted, add a hint of woodsy saltiness alongside the signature crunch called forth for any Snickers experience. The power of these disparate elements unite to form a mishmash that is Rocky Road Ice Cream in candy bar form, a combination so good that it’s… it’s…

(Wants to say something in French, but realizes she doesn’t speak French)…

C’est manifique?! Oui! Bonjour!

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road Bar Satisfies indeed

If candy bars were Las Vegas entertainers, Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road would be David Copperfield: blending the whacky pops and sparkles of a sugary sweet, slightly buttery caramel with crunchy almond nibbles and a semisweet chocolate to make something pretty spectacular. Add to that a fluffy, marshmallow-like nougat and you’ve got all of these sleight of hands and daft illusions that make for a unique, successful endgame. Look out, David Copperfield. You’ve got some competition.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 230 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, less than 2 grams of dietary fiber, 26 grams of sugars, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar
Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: 1.73 ounces
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy outer shell. Chocolate similar to Dove dark chocolate. Marshmallow nougat. Pops of sweet vanilla. Crunchy, toasty almond halves. Rocky Road in candy bar form. Reasons to fill hungry piñatas. David Copperfield’s got competition.
Cons: Limited time only. Some may not like artificial vanilla. Slivered almonds not as chunky as peanuts. Sad, calloused pick-ax-wielders. Talking wizard dust that plan to take over the world.

REVIEW: Birthday Cake M&M’s

Birthday Cake M&M's

I would like to put forth an official motion to reach a consensus on what “birthday cake” flavor is supposed to be.

Because from my understanding, birthday cake is akin to cake batter which is akin to a sweet vanilla/butter flavor with lots of rainbow sprinkles. A quick Pinterest search will demonstrate what I mean. Birthdays are a cause for celebration, and the default mindset for that is as much sugar and as much color as possible.

The Birthday Cake M&Ms are not what you’d expect based on the prior cake-flavored evidence, but rather a play on the original Milk Chocolate variety. This is probably fair to the millions of people who prefer the chocolate cake with white frosting on their birthdays and have been forced to eat too many Funfetti-like products. In fact, I would never choose that for my own cake either. By throwing these into the mix, M&M’s may just be trying to prevent a burgeoning birthday market monopolization. So for those who have been scorned by the rainbow sprinkles in the past, these go out to you.

I finally found these at my CVS when I did my annual Valentine’s Day Sale spree. There was a singular box, wrongfully placed in the clearance section. Although these are also sold in an 8-ounce bag, the only size option was the individual pack, which is unfortunate, because I enjoy sharing my candy and/or eating mass quantities of M&M’s without being aware of how much I’m actually consuming. Usually the latter.

Birthday Cake M&M's Wrapper

These are closer in size to Milk Chocolate M&M’s than the recent new M&M’s have been and stick to a simple color palate of blue, red and yellow. I didn’t have any to compare, but I think they’re the same colors you’d find on other M&M’s, possibly a little bit richer. Also important to note they are made with actual Milk Chocolate. Not chocolate-y candy. Not chocolate-confection. Not Count Chocula Crème (this is not a real marketing tactic, but I think it will be soon.) You can rest assured in eating these that your processed food still has some realness to it.

My recent history with M&M’s has not been great. I was disappointed by Pumpkin Spice, puzzled by Gingerbread, and grossed out by Red Velvet. All of these varieties had such potential, but in the end they all ended up tasting like “chemical.” I was assuming this was what I would have to settle for with my bite sized chocolates.

But these are a beacon of hope. A delicacy. A rede-M&M-ption, if you will. I bit into these and immediately started singing “Happy Birthday” to me. Then the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Then Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” Then I stopped, because I forgot how incredibly uncomfortable that song makes me.

Birthday Cake M&M's Closeup

The flavor in these is subtle, but it accomplishes the intended goal perfectly. There’s a strong milk chocolate note that then evolves into a buttercream taste that’s not too sweet or overpowering. Perfect match to the cake pictured on the pack. Chemical taste level: zero.

I may not choose these over my beloved Carrot Cake or Peanut Butter M&M’s, but they would certainly be ranked above the original in my book. I will be creating a stockpile of these as well, even if they’re not limited edition. Not only are they delicious, but they also make a fantastic non-perishable last minute gift for birthdays you completely forgot about and were only reminded of when you logged onto Facebook.

Now, you can pretend every day is your birthday without having to lie to waiters at restaurants to get a free dessert. Although, you’re still free to do that do. It’s your fake birthday. You deserve to feel as special as you want.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pack (1.4oz) – 190 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Birthday Cake M&M’s
Purchased Price: $1.19
Size: 1.4 oz. bag
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Not chemically, actually tasty. Appeals to the forgotten birthday cake demographic. Actually tastes like the cake on package. Pretending to remember birthdays. Real milk chocolate. Getting free dessert at restaurants.
Cons: Inconsistencies in the definition of birthday cake. Unsettling Rihanna euphemisms. That uncomfortable public domain birthday song you have to sit through in restaurants to get your free fake-birthday sundae.