Rarely, as in very rarely, as in once a year or so, I review something available at Trader Joe’s but not made by them. Last year about this time we looked at the shocking Dutch ChocoVine, a blend of red wine and European chocolate. This year we look at something equally seasonal, and equally European – Edel-Marzinpanstollen. A soft, heavy, sweet loaf of bread filled with dried fruits, marzipan, citrus, loads of spices, and dusted with sugar. The result is something like a fluffier fruitcake.
As you might guess from the long, unwieldy name, Edel-Marzipanstollen is German in origin. And, moreover, it’s as seasonal as seasonal can get. What do I mean by that? Well, put it this way – not only is it a traditional Hanukkah treat and a traditional Christmas treat, but also the Pope himself issued an edict to save them from being outlawed (by an earlier Pope). Now that’s a holiday tradition.
Let’s start at the beginning – distant medieval Germany, AKA the Fun Zone. Back in middle of the dark ages, in the Saxony region of north-eastern Germany, people decided what the hell, let’s start baking a bread-like fruit cake and fill it with all the sweet tasting goodies we can get our hands on. This came to mean including candied orange and lemon peel, raisins, almonds, cardamom, cinnamon and, depending on taste, marzipan – as in the version we’re trying today.
The resulting product, called stollen in it’s most generic form, was originally of Jewish origin, and was eaten throughout the Hanukkah season. The neighboring gentiles, recognizing a good idea when they saw one, adopted it for their own Christmas celebrations sometime there after. However, despite its popularity among Christian laity, the Pope was having none of it. Tasty Christmas breads we’re one casualty of medieval Advent traditions – namely the tradition of fasting, which forbade (among other things) using butter in baking. A stollen isn’t really a stollen if it isn’t absolutely slathered with butter to ensure tasty, moist bread and a long shelf life. Forced to use oil as a surrogate, the resulting stollens were much less palatable – harder, crustier, and bland. The Saxons did not take the loss of the stollen sitting down.
You might have a Christmas tradition you hold dear – you might be prepared to fight for it, but are you prepared to fight five Popes to the death for it? The Saxons were. Starting in the mid-1400’s, two Saxon nobles began sending letters to Pope Nicholas V campaigning for a special dispensation for their bakers to use real butter over Christmas. These letters were summarily ignored until Nicholas’ death – when his successor Callixtus III took over. Callixtus, a very different sort of Pope, nevertheless continued to refuse the request until he died. The post then fell to Pius II, who wanted nothing to do with the butter request and shot it down again. This pattern continued until 1490 when Pope Innocent VIII finally gave in – allowing butter to be used once more. The stollen was saved.
Knowing all this, you might feel more inclined to pick up this sweet bread – but the big question remains – how does it actually taste? Well, as I suggested way back up at the top of the page, Edel-Marzipanstollen is a lot like fruitcake, only better. I’m aware that’s not saying a lot, given the low regard fruitcake is held in, but the comparison stands.
Many of the same ingredients you find in your standard, sticky heavy fruitcake are found here too. The biggest difference is that instead of being crammed into the densest possible wad, they’re given room to breathe in a fluffy, moist, cake-like bread. This bread isn’t sweetened directly – all of the sweetness comes from the sugary fruits and nuts, and the dusting of confectioners sugar on top. This lighter texture makes it much friendlier and more snackable when compared to fruitcake. Nevertheless, the taste is still very similar. If you’ve had one slice of bread filled with candied produce, you know what to expect here. The biggest difference is in the large pieces of marzipan placed throughout. Soft, sweet, and about the size of walnuts, they insert some welcome variety into the otherwise predictable fruit bread.
Overall, despite the unusual name, there isn’t anything in this stollen that you haven’t seen before. If you have a tradition of buying holiday fruit breads, this is a good one, pleasantly heavy and soft, with plenty of candied sweetness. However, if you can get along well enough without fruitcakes or their kin, there’s nothing here that is going to make you change your mind.
Still, it’s only $3.50 for a fine, big loaf – and that’s not a bad price for a piece of ancient holiday history. If the spirit of the season happens to overtake you one fine day as you browse the aisles, why not pick it up and see what all the fuss was about?
Would I Recommend It: Not really, unless you have a particular fondness for holiday fruit breads or feel buoyed up by holiday cheer.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not, I’ve had it once – my curiosity is satisfied.
Final Synopsis: A fluffier, moister variety of fruit cake with a rich history.
Pumpkin seed brittle – well, why not Trader Joe’s? Are they crazy? Well, yes, it certainly might be well warranted to accuse a man of madness on any old ordinary day if he shows up with the idea of making peanut brittle, but replacing the peanuts with pumpkin seeds. That might well warrant alarm. But these aren’t ordinary days. The twisted, orange doors of the Pumpkin Gate have been thrown open and from now until November we are at the mercy of the pumpkin-drunk gourd lords of Trader Joe’s. If that is the way the wind is blowing let it not be said that I don’t also blow that way.
It’s hard to know which way to turn when you goal is to document the unrestrained pumpkin revelry at Trader Joe’s, but Pumpkin Seed Brittle strikes me as particularly bold/insane. Brittle is, by itself, one of those divisive, old-timey candies, like black licorice or Peeps, that you have either eaten with fondness from your childhood, or detest the very thought of. It is, generously, a seasonal treat – not dissimilar to nog, or fruit cake – created, offered and eaten more out of thought to tradition than any real physical desire. Brittles, in particular, tend to last – the snack that is left over from after the party ends.
That’s not entirely the brittle’s fault. It is, by its nature, not a very social snack. A veggie or ranch dip, for example, is designed to be grazed upon easily by any number of party-goers Brittle, on the other hand, doesn’t break easily, makes your fingers tacky, and cements your molars together in a way that that is more scary than fun.
While peanut brittle does have a history of being made with different tupes of nuts/seeds (such as pistachos, or sesame seeds) pumpkin seeds in a recent innovation and, understandably, one that Trader Joe’s was eager to jump in on.
The first thing you’ll notice is the very nice box the pumpkin brittle comes in – pleasant colors and big, warm art make it perfectly suited to gifting.Inside the box, things are just as you’d expect them to be. The pumpkin seed brittle looks the same as peanut brittle – same dark brown color, same jagged panes of shattered brittle stacked up in uneven piles. The only real difference is that instead of standing out, like peanuts, the pumpkin seeds blend into the same mellow brown color of the brittle.
When it comes to flavor, the difference is similarly subtle. The pumpkin brittle is made from the same key ingredients that all brittles are made from – sugar, water, and butter. Be it peanut or pumpkin, the candy tastes the same – like sweet, carmalized sugar. The actual pumpkin seeds, when you come to them, are mild and crunchy, but don’t make much of an impact on the dish. In fact, while peanuts are a fairly notable part of peanut brittle – large, smooth and bland counterparts to the sticky, sweet brittle. The smaller, flatter pumpkin seeds don’t contribute nearly as much. You’ll notice a pumpkin seed when you bite into one, but don’t expect that strong taste of roast pumpkin seeds. The reason for this is that the recipe uses pumpkin seeds that have already been shelled. This makes for crispier, tastier eating – but remove much of what is uniqe about the pumpkin seed taste. These small seeds (and seed fragments) don’t provide much taste, even a bland one – they’re just a bit of crunch, and then gone.
To counter this, TJ’s dusts their brittle with “traditional pupkin pie spices”. In this case, that means cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and some others. This is by far the strongest part of the brittle, giving each piece a very nice, sweetly spicy flavor. Pumpkin it may not taste like, but pumpkin pie it certainly does.
If you’re jonesing for that autumn brittle, you might consider picking this up for the novelty of it. More generally, however, we can consider this as something like Trader Joe’s Truffle Salt, a food better suited to holiday gift giving than actually imbibing.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, especially if you’re looking for a new kind of brittle to give people.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but not until next year.
Final Synopsis: Like peanut brittle, but with some pumpkin pie spices on it.
To be honest, I picked up Trader Joe’s Organic Soy Creamy Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert (aka vegan ice cream) because I feel sorry for vegans.
I probably shouldn’t, I know that vegans and vegetarians and pescatarians and whatever all else there is are perfectly capable of looking after themselves, but I still feel sorry for them. It’s a crazy, meat eating world out here in America. If people aren’t spraining their jaws exalting the wonders of bacon, they’re drooling over commercials for monstrous, meat soaked burgers. Occasionally I try and put myself in the shoes of a person who, for reasons of personal ethics or personal health, has chosen not to eat meat.
What if the tables were turned, I sometimes wonder, and was in the minority? What if, for example, 99% of restaurants served dog and dog based dishes? What if TV, print media and the internet were plastered in ads showing people taking loving mouthfuls of hot, roasted dog. What if people not only went on at length about how many delicious puppies they ate last night, but would even go so far as to ridicule me for not eating dogs, and bemoan my stubborn refusal to just give in already and start eating puppies like everyone else.
So yes, I bought all the flavors of Soy Creamy Non-Dairy Frozen Desert because I want to morally support my vegan friends (okay…friend) who comes over sometimes. What I was shocked to discover, is that soy based ice cream is great!
I was every bit as surprised as you. As we’ve discussed over “healthy” guacamole and veggie patties, there’s usually a price to pay for healthy and/or vegetarian cuisine. That price is taste. If something is good for you, it doesn’t usually taste very good, and if something is bad for you it generally tastes amazing. That’s the inherent cruelty of life, and strong evidence that the Irish Catholic guilt-based version of God might be the accurate one. TJ’s Soy Creamy completely explodes this model. This vegan, non-dairy, organic, soy-based ice cream is equally as good as it’s dairy based counterpart. In fact, I might actually like it better.
Soy Creamy is just as sweet and creamy as any other grocery store ice cream you’re likely to find, creamier even. I assumed the “creamy” bit in the title was just a throw away marketing line. Not so – this stuff is seriously smooth. Something about the vegan make up of Soy Creamy keeps it from freezing solid in your freezer. We all know that problem, hammering away at the top of an ice-hard lump of caramel ripple, denting up the spoon in an attempt to get out two or three teaspoons worth of ice cream. The vegan ice cream doesn’t have this problem – every spoonful comes out smooth and easy, but still stiff, and melts on the tongue with a full bodied flavor. It strikes the perfect balance between soft-serve and the real stuff.
The flavors are great as well. The vanilla tastes wonderfully rich and perfectly decadent. A bowl of it will leave every bit as satisfied as any milk based alternative. The cherry chocolate chip was also good, but this has never been my favorite flavor, even in the non-dairy world. The combination of chocolate chunks and mild cherry flavor doesn’t work any better as a vegan dish, leaving me equally nonplussed.
The only thing I can imagine that might put people off of Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy is that the aftertaste is different from the aftertaste of dairy based ice cream. You might notice a mild aftertaste of beans a few minutes after finishing off a bowl. Is that a bad thing? I suppose that depends on how you feel about the taste of edamame. For my count, I found it mild enough to right it off entirely. Plus, it’s more than compensated for by the healthy nutrtional profile.
In addition to being totally organic, which it is, the soy cream also has less fat and fewer calories per serving. Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Ice Cream, for example, has 260 calories and 16 grams of fat per serving – compared to the 180 calories and 8 grams of fat in the Vanilla Soy Creamy. Even if you have trouble grappling with the concept of a non-dairy ice cream, the calorie count couldn’t be a more eloquent argument in it’s favor. Eat twice as much for the same amount of calories? I’m on board.
So yeah, I like it. In fact, with the summer coming around the corner I’m libel to buy a lot more. In fact, I might even start buying this exclusively whenever I have a hankering for chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Am I crazy? Arguably, but you’ll just have to try some and find out.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is your go to organic ice cream, so or not.
Would I Buy It Again: I may never go back to dairy ice cream.
Final Synopsis: Vegan ice cream that as good as the real thing.
Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Fat-Free Brownies is one of those crazy products that wants to have it both ways. Similar to no-fat “cheese” products, low-carb bread, and methadone, reduced guilt brownies are one of those paradoxical products that attempts to negate its own existence. Everyone knows that the fat free versions of fatty foods are never as good as the real thing. It’s just one of the fundamentals rules of the universe, put in place by God as a daily reminder that no, life will never be fair. The sad question we must ask ourselves when we pondering whether to buy a box of reduced guilt anything is not “are they good”, but “are they good enough”? In this case, the answer is yes, if you’re prepared for a little weird.
Let’s talk about what’s right with these brownies first. There are several things Trader Joe’s does wonderfully right with these brownies. The most surprising quality of these brownies is that they actually deliver on the “reduced guilt” qualifier. The box prepares about a dozen normally sized brownies, each of which contains only 130 calories, zero of those calories from fat. There’s still the 26 grams of carbs to consider, but seeing as that Trader Joe’s is only promising reduced guilt, not guilt free, I’m willing to call that a success.
It’s also worth noting that the only ingredient you have to add to the box mix is fat-free vanilla yogurt. It takes a little bit of elbow grease to blend the yogurt with the dry mix, but once you’re finished all you have to do is pop the pan in the oven. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
To compare real brownies to reduced guilt brownies is a sorrowful thing, and I wouldn’t normally do it if there were any other choice. A good brownie is a delicious, wonderful little bit of chocolate heaven. A reduced guilt brownie is what you cook up when that heaven is barred from you, but you still hang around trying to stare in through the gates. The hope is always that maybe, maybe these reduced guilt, no fat brownies will be just as good as regular brownies.
Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Brownies are surprisingly tasty, all things considered, but there is a weirdness about them that is slightly off putting. The weirdness is two fold – taste and texture.
Taste is what you might expect, the intensity of delicious chocolate flavor that you expect from a brownie is much more muted in these. It’s still recognizable as a brownie, you just won’t be swooning over them. Texture is the bigger issue. The brownies are still dense and moist – but they’re also strangely spongy and yoken. There’s nothing egg-y about these guys, seeing as that no eggs go into it, but nevertheless the overall consistency and tooth feel of the brownies reminded me of a porous bit of omelette.
It’s certainly a long cry from the perfect brownie, but given the very reasonable nutritional profile, the flavor and texture you get is ultimately good enough to justify the purchase.
Would I Recommend Them: If you have a sweet tooth and a restrictive, but not too restrictive, diet I would.
Would I Buy Them Again: I prefer to go no brownies, or real brownies all the way.
Final Synopsis: An erstaz brownie that is just healthy enough to be worth the bother.
Brace yourselves readers, for a rare double post – reviewing both Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Marshmallows and Dark Chocolate Minty Marshmallows. And baby, how could I pass up these sweet little snacks – the holiday marshmallow display at Trader Joe’s this week looked so good that there was no way I couldn’t pick up both types. Unfortunately, that was as good as things got.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Marshmallows are exactly what they sounds like – big blobs of marshmallow “enrobed” (as they like to say) in a dark chocolate shell. The sizes between these two types vary dramatically for some reason. The regular marshmallows are hemispheres about the size of a half dollar, while the mint flavored ones are rectangular and about 50% larger.
Both sound pretty much exactly like what you think you’re going to get, and that was something of a let down. It was the newness and novelty of these items that drew me to them – chocolate covered marshmallows weren’t something I’d ever seen in a grocery store before, let alone Christmas themed ones. I was absolutely ready to get blitzed by some brand new, delicious holiday treat. I mean, for all I knew these could be the next toffee popcorn or peppermint bark.
When you first bite into one of these, however, you quickly discover that there’s no secret holiday magic here. The chocolate shell is brittle and thin, and sticks to the under laying marshmallow as you chew it. Over all, the taste was strangely familiar for something I’d never had before. The chocolate, despite being “dark”, is still quite sweet and, to be honest, slightly cheap tasting. The same can be said of the marshmallow filling – sweet and a little cheap tasting.
Then, suddenly, I remembered why it was all so familiar – I have had these before, for Halloween and Easter. Chocolate covered marshmallows snacks might be a new thing for Christmas, but they’re hardly new to the holiday scene. I’ve you’ve ever had a Cadbury marshmallow egg, you know pretty much what Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallows taste like. You also know what’s it’s like to eat one – which is to say, a mouthful. These are marshmallows that are going to keep you chewing for a minute or two as you masticate the mallow core and melt down the many little chocolate shards.
While I wanted to like these, I found myself facing the fairly tricky question of what to do with them. Eating them straight out of the box is a less than satisfying experience. They taste good, in the same way a Cadbury Marshmallow Egg tastes good, but it’s also not a taste you’re going to be hankering for bite after bite.
The big idea printed on the side of each box, and I grant that it’s a good one, is to add these guys to hot chocolate. In theory this is brilliant – marshmallows in hot chocolate are great, so dark chocolate covered marshmallows must be even better, right? Unfortunately, that’s not really what I found. The marshmallow, once dissolved in the hot chocolate, is just as good as any other marshmallow I’ve had. The problem is that the chocolate coating slows down the whole marshmallow melting process. I placed one regular dark chocolate marshmallow in a nice hot cup of hot chocolate, and by the time it was half dissolved the hot chocolate had cooled to tepid. There’s a good reason someone invented those tiny little marshmallow to go in your hot chocolate – waiting for a big marshmallow to dissolve is tedious, covering a big marshmallow with a protective shell only slows things down further.
Of the two, I think the minty mallows were the ones I preferred, simply because they performed an actual function. The mint in these is strong and fresh, and they perform admirably as after dinner mints. On the other hand, unlike after dinner mints they’re a big mouthful to chew on, which isn’t exactly what you’re looking for after you’ve just stuffed yourself on potatoes au grautin. Outside of that function, and despite their holiday whimsy, neither of these marshmallows really gave me a reason to care about them.
Would I Recommend Them: There’s just not much to recommend here.
Would I Buy Them Again: I think I’ll just buy those little marshmallows instead next time.
Final Synopsis: Christmas should leave the chocolate covered marshmallows to Easter.
What is it about miniaturization that makes things so much more appealing? Regular umbrellas? Just okay. Mini drink umbrellas? Amazing. Regular bottles of alcohol? Enjoyable. Mini bottles of alcohol? Instant fun. Regular elephants? Pretty good. Dwarf elephants? Mind blowing. Whatever it is, it applies equally to Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies – delicious, light and flaky hor d’oeuvre-sized pumpkin pies so deliciously edible that they pose a serious danger to your waistband.
I picked up these pies more out of a sense of obligation to my on going coverage of Trader Joe’s pumpkin madness then any real desire to have pumpkin pies. Let me preface my coming remarks by pointing out that I’m a pumpkin pie lover, and always will be so long as I live. Pumpkin pie has an indelible place at my Thanksgiving table this year and every year to come. That said, pumpkin pie is definitely a second tier pie. I love eating it at Thanksgiving, and maybe one or two more times over the winter holidays, but that’s about does it for me. Unlike, say, a good cherry or lemon meringue, it’s just not a pie I hanker for year round.
Why, then, should I expect these mini pumpkin pies to be any better – miniaturization aside. There’s one excellent answer to that question – and that’s the crust. While the heart of the pie might be its filling, its soul is in its crust. A pie can only go so far with an average crust. For a pie to be truly delectable it needs a light, flaky, tasty, buttery crust – and on that front Trader Joe’s knocks it out of the park. The crust on these mini pumpkin pies is the most delicious part – tastier by far than the somewhat indifferent pumpkin pie filling. It’s an all butter crust, imbued with sugar yolk (egg white beaten with sugar) and graced across the top with a few more grains of granulated sugar for good measure – more like the crust of a delicate turnover than a pie. I’m no pie die hard, but I can confidently say this is the most delicious pie crust I’ve ever had.
Trader Joe’s plays to the strength of their excellent crust in two ways. One, in direct defiance of all pumpkin pie tradition, they have put top crusts on these pies. Now normally I’m the kind of guy who’d strut up and down lambasting TJ’s for such a brazen act of effrontery. In this case however, I’ve got nothing to say – the top crust does everything to improve this pie and nothing to hurt it.
Second, by serving these pies in miniature TJ is maximizing the amount of crust surface area they’re delivering while keeping the crust light and thin. The one issue I encountered while baking up these pies was that they tended to crumble apart at the least provocation. This is, of course, the Achilles’s heel of a very light and flaky pie crust. Only by limiting the pies to such a small size is it even possible to cook them without have them fall all to pieces. Of course, even at such a small size you’ve got to expect that that buttery crust packs some fat. And you’d be right to expect that – to the tune of 30% of your saturated fat intake in just one 1.5 oz pie.
So yes, these are delicious pies. But in the end they are still pumpkin pies – while they might delight me, and make an appearance at my holiday parties, I don’t think I’ll be bringing them out again until this time next year.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, just be careful you don’t eat them all in one sitting.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, but not until next Thanksgiving.
Final Synopsis: A tiny, delicious take on the pumpkin pie with a truly wonderful crust.
I don’t normally review items that are obviously delicious. For example, I’m not writing a review of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels.
Trader Joe’s Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars would seem to fall into this category. I mean, frozen fruit juice bars? It’s not like no one’s every thought of doing this before. Do you really need to be told if you’ll like this or not – especially if you’re at Trader Joe’s where, if you’re in the mood for a frozen fruit bar, you have a choice of about three options?
Let’s just consider the ingredient list – raspberries, sugar, vanilla, cream. Does this sound like something you’d like to eat in a frozen bar form? Of course it does! It really seems like a waste of perfectly good turns of phrase, not to mention everyone’s time, to dig much deeper.
So that’d be it, article over, if it wasn’t for the fact that someone in the Trader Joe’s corporate chain of command is either a twisted madman, or a genius in thrall of a dream beyond our comprehension. In either case the visions that torment him have been made manifest in this bar for, you see, this bar has no stick.
NO STICK. It’s just a little plastic envelop with a lump of frozen fruit and cream in it.
In all honesty, Trader Joe’s expects you to take out one of the small bags, tear open the plastic wrapper, and devour their Raspberry and Vanilla Cream bar right there as is. There is simply no way to take it out of the wrapper without sticky-ing your fingers. I suppose you could drop it onto a plate, at which point you will stare at the sad, stick-less lump and wonder why TJ’s would do such a thing.
The history of civilization is the story of man striving to develop the perfect frozen treat delivery system – whether sandwiched between cookies, pushed up a cardboard tube, enrobed in chocolate and wrapped in foil, served in tiny tubs, sugar cones, waffle cones or chocolate-dipped waffle cones progress has marched on! And throughout it all the stick has remained most simple, most pure and cost effective method – the father and platonic ideal of all frozen treats delivery systems. All this progress out the window!Trader Joe’s is trying to single-handedly undo all the progress frozen novelties have achieve in the past centuries and drag it kicking and screaming back to the dark ages.
This is madness Trader Joe’s! Put sticks in your fruit & cream bars! We are not animals! We will not mess our faces like beasts at the trough. If you wanted to serve ice cream in a little pouch, than call it ice cream in a little pouch. Don’t call it a bar and stick it in with the rest of the iced novelties as if that were somehow sane.
Also, the bars are a little bit small. Each bar comes in at 40 grams, or 1.4 ounces, which makes them about as big as your cell phone’s battery back, or about two bars of guest soap set side to side. That’s may not be much to chew on, but the cream is so sweet and the fruit so rich that it eats slow It is an intense and delicious taste sensation that brims over with real raspberry taste and sweet vanilla cream that would lend itself to slowly nibbling – if only it had a stick.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind tiny bars that are doomed to be messy.
Would I Buy It Again: No, it’s just not fun to eat.
Final Synopsis: A delicious bar, fatally flawed by the lack of a stick.