REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cup Cakes

Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cup Cakes

There are no pumpkin spice jokes left to be made, are there? Yes, it’s everywhere. Yes, people have found some preposterous things to infuse with it. But who cares? It’s popular because it’s a delicious signifier of autumn’s arrival. You may have already come across 57,346,922 pumpkin spice junk food items this season, but let’s enter this review with an open mind free of cynicism!

When I read that Hostess had introduced Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cup Cakes this year, I was pretty jazzed. Much like the back-to-school/Halloween/Thanksgiving season in general, Hostess snacks inspire a sense of comfort and nostalgia in me. (Plus I’d recently experienced a renewed interest in Hostess products last year after their shameless, but effective, product placement with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Darn you, bizarre marketing tie-ins.)

After failing to locate them at nearby grocery stores, I eventually discovered the cupcakes in the seasonal section at Target. When I finally got them home and tried them out, I found that my expectations remained generally undashed.

To begin, I don’t want to say that their smell is overpowering, but it’s certainly bold, and it permeates the room from the moment you open the box (even though each cake is sealed in an airtight wrapper!). I’m talking Glade-levels of scent here, which, if you truly enjoy the aroma of clove and nutmeg, then yay!

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Visually, the cakes were slightly disappointing. The lot I got was sort of pathetically misshapen, tinier than one might anticipate, and they featured a meager number of sprinkles on each cake. The fondant-style icing was also kind of brittle, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with factory-produced pastries.

Before fully biting in, I sampled each separate component (icing, cake, sprinkle, filling) so I that I could taste their flavors individually before experiencing how they worked together. Turns out that fastidiousness was all in vain; as indicated by their scent, these things are pumpkin spice cherry bombs with a flavor so, um, robust that it’s impossible to discern the various tastes because the pumpkin spice overrides them all.

What’s more, these cupcakes are rich. Like, really rich. I couldn’t even finish two of them, and I’m somebody who has no problem polishing off a pint of ice cream in mere minutes. Don’t think of the “one cake” serving size listed in the nutrition facts as a suggestion – consider it a prescription dosage to be observed for your personal welfare.

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Still, the cakes aren’t bad, just dangerously potent. And there’s plenty of positive things to say about them: They’re surprisingly, almost logic-defyingly moist, and the creme filling has that trademark Hostess velvety whip feel to it which complements the pumpkin spice flavor quite well. Also, the crunchy sprinkles, crisp icing, and pillowy cake work well together to create an enjoyable combination of textures. So long as you don’t overindulge, these cakes are actually quite good.

To the diehard pumpkin spice junk food fanatics, these bad boys should be very close to, if not right up, your alley. There’s no nuanced flavor here – just pure, uncorrupted autumnal essence. I may have struggled with them, but the truth is that they’re nothing more and nothing less than what I’d imagined when I read the words “pumpkin,” “spice,” and “Hostess” together in one product description. Enjoy in moderation – and with moderate expectations – and they’re unlikely to disappoint.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 160 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cup Cakes
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 8 cakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Consistent Hostess quality. One box should last you a while. Limited edition seasonal foods are just plain old fun.
Cons: Likely too sweet and pumpkin spice-y for some. Easy to overindulge. Smells like a Yankee Candle.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel

Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel

You know that old friend you have? The one you only talk to when they’re visiting town? The two of you pick up right where you left off, but you both know that as soon as you part ways, you won’t be speaking again for another year or two? That’s how I’d describe my relationship with Milky Way.

Our interactions are generally limited to the Halloween season, when they’re included in those giant bags of fun size mixed treats. And even then, it’s usually a week into November before I finally get around to eating them (long after the Reese’s, Twix, and Baby Ruth have been exhausted).

And I don’t even dislike Milky Way! I just sorta group them in with Mr. Goodbar, or Krackel, or any other inoffensive, middle-of-the-road candy bar. Strange since Milky Way is such a close cousin to the widely beloved Snickers, but there’s no disputing that peanuts and nougat are radically different ingredients; swap one out for the other and you’ve created an entirely new piece of candy.

By the same token, when I first read about a new Milky Way that traded in regular nougat for a marshmallow-y nougat filling, I was intrigued. It sounded like a brilliant way of taking a longstanding favorite and infusing it with fluffy, summery goodness. Lucky for me, and despite its proclaimed “limited edition” status, I found the bar easily, just around the corner at my local convenience store.

Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel 2

As I unwrapped it and split it open to check out its contents, I was shocked. It looked exactly like – if not better than – the illustration on the wrapper! When does that EVER happen?

How many times have we as junk food enthusiasts been duped by package art into buying burgers that turned out flimsy and pathetic? Microwave dinners that congealed into greasy, mealy porridge? Ice pops that looked like terrifying, disfigured, goblin versions of the cartoon characters they were meant to represent? This was a strong start for Milky Way.

Biting in, the texture is different from that of the standard edition, but certainly not worse. The marshmallow nougat is significantly smoother and less chewy than its original counterpart, which makes this bar a nice option for chocolate lovers who try to avoid stickier foods.

But the taste is the most important part, and it leaves little room for complaint. This set of flavors complement each other well. The ratios are sound, and everything is properly layered with no single component overwhelming another. If forced to be nitpicky I would say that, considering its top billing, the marshmallow flavor is a bit light and takes a while to develop, but that’s about it. Overall, this is a well constructed piece of candy.

While nothing can replace the original, this variation serves as a nifty take on the classic bar. Similar to those tasty Caramel Apple squares Milky Way puts out every autumn, I could easily see myself snacking on miniatures of these throughout the summer.

M.W., perhaps I was wrong about you – I think I might be ready to take this relationship to the next level.

(Nutrition Facts – 220 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel
Purchased Price: $1.25
Size: 1.72 oz.
Purchased at: Krauszer’s Food & Liquor
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable variation on a classic candy. Pleasant flavor profile. Bar looks exactly as pictured!
Cons: Marshmallow flavor is a bit light. Might be better in fun size. Adequate item which makes it difficult to think of a humorous third complaint?

REVIEW: Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast

Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast

Despite fitting perfectly into Mountain Dew’s target demographic – I was a middle schooler when extreme sports were huge and a high schooler when gaming culture went mainstream – I’ve never been a huge Dew devotee. (Dewvotee?) For whatever reason, my tastes always tended towards the cola side of things. Still, I’ll never turn down a chance to try a weird, limited edition soft drink, so here we are.

Mountain Dew’s Sangrita Blast is one of two Taco Bell-imprinted flavors freed from soda fountain exclusivity just in time for the sweltering summer months (the other being longstanding fan favorite Baja Blast).

Now I have to admit to some ignorance here: When I first picked up this soda, I was puzzled by its name. “Sangrita?” I wondered aloud. “With a T?” I figured one of two things: Either Mountain Dew was afraid of calling it Sangria Blast because people might mistake it for an alcoholic product, or the flavor was crafted as a mish-mosh of sangria and margarita flavors.

A few minutes and some light Googling later, I discovered sangrita is actually a different beverage altogether. Unlike wine-laced sangria, sangrita is an alcohol-free tequila accompaniment made from pomegranate juice, chili powder, and an assortment of other juices and spices which vary from recipe to recipe.

Reading about this popular Mexican drink, my hopes rose. Not because it sounded especially good, but because it just sounded so different. A carbonated take on a peppery, nectar-y cocktail? What a fascinating way to diversify the usually predictable Mountain Dew flavor line-up. Whether it ended up tasting good or bad, at least I knew Sangrita Blast would be interesting.

(At least, that’s what logic told me.)

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I admired the promisingly deep, bloody red tint of the soda and cracked open the bottle top. I took a whiff, anticipating the sensation of spicy fizz tickling my nose; instead, though, I found a vague, cherry-ish scent remarkably similar to another Mountain Dew flavor, Code Red. Troubling. Still, smell doesn’t always betray taste, so I remained optimistic and took a sip.

Disappointingly, the flavor was no better. There was no trace of pomegranate, no piquant spice blend, just a bold, cherry-dominated fruit taste with mild citric undertones, sort of like a toned-down cherry limeade. Just as the smell suggested, there was little appreciable difference between Sangrita Blast and Code Red. It’s pleasantly fruity with a surprisingly light aftertaste, but talk about false advertising.

The label plainly describes it as regular Mountain Dew with “citrus punch flavor,” this is true, but if you’re naming your product after something as distinctive as sangrita, you can’t just run Hawaiian Punch through a SodaStream and call it a day. This soda isn’t bad, but it’s disappointing, which is, in a way, worse. If nothing else, I was expecting a potentially awesome hangover remedy, yet we don’t even get that – just a tame retread of an already successful flavor selection. Oh, well.

Unfortunately, I never sampled the fountain version of Sangrita Blast, so I can’t comment as to how the bottled version compares. But I can tell you while other varieties of the citrusy, over-caffeinated classic may be a Mountain Do, Sangrita Blast is most certainly a Mountain Bad. (Did I do that right?)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bottle – 270 calories, 0 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 73 grams of carbohydrates, 72 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast
Purchased Price: $1.70
Size: 20 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Krauszer’s Food & Liquor
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Beautiful color. Pleasant enough take on carbonated fruit punch. Basically Code Red, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cons: Deceptively named. Missed opportunity. Basically Code Red, if you’re not into that sort of thing.

REVIEW: DiGiorno Pizzeria Thin Primo Pepperoni Pizza

DiGiorno Pizzeria Thin Primo Pepperoni Pizza

Like ’em or not, you have to admit DiGiorno is a gutsy brand. For years, their advertising campaign has been predicated on the idea that an unwitting consumer could mistake their frozen pizza for hand-tossed, homestyle goodness delivered fresh from the local trattoria.

Now, with the introduction of their new line of thin-crust pies, the company has grown so confident in the quality of their work that their packaging is actually shrieking the word “PIZZERIA!“, exclamation point and all, in customers’ faces. But does DiGiorno’s latest creation finally live up to their lofty claims?

Because of my local grocery store’s limited selection, Pizzeria! Thin Primo Pepperoni was the only variety available for me. The box instructed me to place the pie directly on the center oven rack, warning that a pizza stone or cookie sheet may diminish its tastiness.

As an ardent pizza stone user/insane person, this filled me with terrific dread. I envisioned magma-like cheese dripping to the bottom of the stove and bursting into flames, or microscopic mites native only to oven racks infesting the crust. (Obviously, I have an awesome grasp on how science works, you guys.) Thankfully, when the kitchen timer rang, I discovered the pie intact and, from what I could tell, mite-free.

The directions also recommended that I let it rest for five minutes before slicing in, so I took that time to savor the smell; it was slightly herbaceous, but the oregano and basil were overwhelmed by the greasy aroma of the pepperoni (which isn’t a bad thing if you’re aiming for a genuine pizzeria experience).

As I bit in, I found the end product to be a bit of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the cheese: It was unremarkable, owing probably to the lame part-skim mozzarella used. No provolone, cheddar, or Parmesan to add some complexity and depth of flavor? Points deducted.

The sauce was similarly disappointing. Although the packaging proudly describes it as “made with vine-ripened tomatoes and herbs” – uh, I would hope so? – it tasted distinctly frozen pizza-y, by which I mean that it was equal parts bitter and bland, very unlike the sweet tomato sauce I’m accustomed to eating in actual pizzerias. Come on, DiGiorno!

Moving on to the “primo” pepperoni, I have no compliments, but no complaints either. It baked to a nice, crisp texture, and it tasted like your average pepp – savory and oily with a minor spicy afterkick.

DiGiorno Pizzeria Thin Primo Pepperoni Pizza 2

But in spite of all this mediocrity, there exists one seriously redeeming factor: The crust. It was chewy yet crispy, pillowy yet flavorful. Just as the box says, you can taste the nuanced seasonings and the lushness of the olive oil drizzle. It would seem DiGiorno’s entire budget went into the dough and, really, that’s the smartest area of investment when it comes to pizza. Gourmet toppings don’t mean much when they’re served on a disc of tasteless, rubbery breading.

So has DiGiorno finally achieved mistakable-for-delivery status? Nah. But if you’re expecting something less ambitious, like a serviceable frozen pizza, then you’re less likely to walk away disappointed. Perhaps the other varieties (Supreme Speciale, Spinach & Mushroom, and Margherita) are a bit more convincing. Or maybe it just depends on the kind of delivery you’re used to.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/4 pizza – 310 calories, 130 from fat, 15 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 760 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein.)

Item: DiGiorno Pizzeria Thin Primo Pepperoni Pizza
Purchased Price: $7.19
Size: 17.2 oz.
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Awesome crust. Okay pepperoni. Serves its humble purpose.
Cons: Lackluster cheese and sauce. Still not pizzeria-quality. Box condescendingly advises you to enjoy “with fresh salad and great company.”

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Reviewer Jeff S.

Hey there! I’m Jeff. Although I see The Impulsive Buy already has a Jeff, so I guess you guys can call me Jeff S. Or is that too confusing? You could make up some other name for me. Hmm. What’s another name? Baxter DuFrayne. No. That’s weird. I’ll just stick to Jeff S.

Junk food has always played an integral role in my life, from my bizarre pre-adolescent obsession with stale Cheez Doodles and off-brand peanut butter cups, to my teenage years when 7-Eleven’s Go-Go Taquitos comprised a solid 83% of my personal food pyramid, to my current opinions on McDonald’s recent dipping sauce shake-up. (They’re PRETTY controversial, be warned.)

Simply put, I love putting garbage in my mouth.

Within the junk food sphere, my areas of expertise are soda, cereal, and candy. More specifically, though, I love season-exclusive items. I don’t care if it’s made from fiberglass and expired iguana kibble -– if it’s dyed shamrock green, or speckled with candy hearts, or shaped like a pine tree, or dusted with nutmeg and cinnamon, I will purchase it. And I will consume it.

Reading my reviews, you’ll also find that I like to like stuff –- sorry, just had to flex that ever-useful bachelor’s degree in writing ;-D -– so I refuse to be hypercritical just for the sake of having something to say. At the same time, I’m not overly forgiving. For example: Pepsi Holiday Spice was slightly too acidic. Yes, someone FINALLY had the backbone to say what we’ve all been thinking these past ten years.

But yeah, as a longtime fan of TIB, having the opportunity to join the site as a contributor fills me with a tremendous amount of happiness. Thank you for having me, and I look forward to discussing salty, greasy, and sugary foodstuffs with all of you!