As you may have noticed from my unofficial first post last week – Pumpkin Season has returned again to Trader Joe’s! Today, we really get right into the swing of things with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone – a pumpkin-spiced, pumpkin-cream filled, Italian desert bread stuffed with candied pumpkin.
|What it is:||A bready cake made with candied pumpkin.|
|Price:||$5.99 for a 26.5 oz cake.|
|Worth it:||No – not as good as regular panettone.|
Yes, as you can tell from the last sentence the annual pumpkin madness has fallen upon us again – the most exciting and, occasionally, harrowing time of the year. There’s no telling what fresh chimeras or monstrous hybrids the Trader Joe’s food scientists have cooked up in their labs, secreted far from judging eyes in the protective, pumpkin-scented bedrock of TJ’s Monrovia headquarters.
The season of Pumpkin Madness at Trader Joe’s is a time to mentally prepare yourself before you go shopping – there’s no knowing what what miracle or nightmare may be lurking around every corner – from the heavenly delights of Trader Joe’s pumpkin-glazed, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, to the terrors of Trader Joe’s Non-Fat Pumpkin Greek Yogurt, to the mind-wrenching bafflement of Trader Joe’s pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds and Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s.
Where does Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone fall in this pumpkin spectrum? That depends in large part how you feel about panettone in general.
As you may or may not know, panettone (pronounced, approximately: “pa-nuh-toe-ni”) is a traditional Italian Christmas “cake”. I put cake in quotes here, because even though it’s generally referred to as such, panettone is much airier and “bread-ier” than the more common sort of American cakes. Like fruitcake, panettone is more of a concept than a set recipe, and is made as many different ways as there are people who make it. Nevertheless, all panettone are linked by a couple universal factors – they’re laced with dried or candied fruit, dabs of marscapone cream, and are always airy and bready.
Trader Joe’s does carry regular panettone around the holidays, so they know how they’re made. This year it seems they couldn’t contain their excitement for the sweet bread any longer, and decided to bring us a unique, pumpkin-based version. Instead of candied citrus and raisins, there’s candied pumpkin. Instead of marscapone cream there’s pumpkin-flavored cream. There’s even dried pumpkin powder worked into the dough. With that much pumpkin, you might expect the cake to be a double-fisted pumpkin punch to the jaw. Instead, it hardly tastes like pumpkin at all. All you’ll really taste is the traditional, bready panettone cake, and the sugary sweetness of the cream and sugar. The actual pumpkin bits – as numerous as they are, have been denatured of their natural pumpkin flavor. At best, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice a very, very subtle pumpkin aftertaste and that’s it.
The overall effect is somewhat bizarre. It’s like having a glimpse into some alternate universe where the twisted occupants make panettone for Halloween instead of Christmas. In fact, this is probably what Trader Joe’s has in mind for this product. Each Pumpkin Panettone comes packaged in a very nice looking gift box, including a pretty little ribbon handle – perfect for a little host/hostess gift.
In terms of a nice looking gift, you could do worse. Show up with a Pumpkin Panettone and a bottle of wine to the seasonal autumn party of your choice and you’ll look quite dashing. Just don’t wait around the buffet table fishing for compliments – this panettone is likely to impress visually, but the taste is more likely to leave people scratching their heads than going back for seconds.
If you like Christmas panettone you are likely to enjoy this – the pumpkin hardly makes an appearance, and the sweet bread aspect is dominant. If you’ve never much enjoyed panettone, or if you’re looking for something heavy on the pumpkin, you should pass this up.
Alternatively, I would highly recommend punching it. The high, domed form of the panettone, combined with the soft and airy interior, make it an absolute delight to deliver a devastating front punch to. If you buy a Pumpkin Panettone, and you don’t like it, I’d definitely suggest winding up and letting one fly directly at the top of the dome before taking it back to TJ’s for a refund.
Would I Recommend It: Not really – unless you like panettone that doesn’t taste like pumpkin.
Would I Buy It Again: No thanks.
Final Synopsis: Very satisfying to punch.
If you’ve never had a chocolate lava cake, then you should remedy that situation as quickly as possible. The chocolate lava cake is one of those death-by-chocolate confections that are actually as good as they are billed to be. A three or four inch chocolate cake is served piping hot, concealing within its unassuming body thick, molten chocolate fudge that flows forth with each forkful you eat – a heart-stopping flood of decadence. It’s the sort of desert that Nero would have approved of. Given its popularity, it’s not a surprise that Trader Joe’s would bring their own version to their shelves with Trader Joe’s Chocolate Lava Cakes.
However, when it comes to grocery store versions of restaurant food, there’s always that question hanging in the air. Will the contents of this frozen box be anywhere near as good as what I order off the menu? It’s common for grocery stores, even Trader Joe’s, to over reach on this issue. We previously explored the problem with grocery store French fries in Trader Joe’s Poutine. Can they pull off chocolate lava cakes any better, or are these just a disappointing waste of money?
Answer: These are really good. In fact, not only do they rival the chocolate lava cakes you might get at a restaurant, they open the door on a whole stunning array of possible customization.
A Trader Joe’s Chocolate Lava Cake has 360 calories, and 23 grams of fat, but they make the most of it. Each and every bite of these cakes is luxuriously chocolaty – almost overwhelmingly so. The outer cake, deep rich brown, is sweet and moist straight out of the oven, with a delicate crisp to the outer edge. Plunge a spoon through this and you’ll find the chocolate fudge deluge – an almost frighteningly rich ooze of nearly black dark chocolate, so rich and intense that I highly recommend small bites only.
This is basically what you’d hope to get at a restaurant, and so easily passes that test. The greater appeal is that these unadorned cakes are easy to accessorize with whip cream, butter scotch syrup, fresh fruit, mint leaves, vanilla ice cream, or whatever else might tickle your fancy. Given the staggering level of chocolate intensity, I’d suggest playing the cakes off of a different flavor palette – such as some tart raspberries – but if you want to load it up with Cookies and Crème Cookie Butter and have it fed to you on a divan as you chortle with unseemly glee, I won’t stop you.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, but any ensuing diabetes is your problem.
Would I Buy It Again: As soon as I think my waistline can bear it.
Final Synopsis: Restaurant-worthy fudge-filled, chocolate fudge, fudge cakes.