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Trader Joe’s Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies

These pumpkin scone cookies are cakes. That's confusing. Why must we live in such a complex world?

These pumpkin scone cookies are cakes. That’s confusing. Why must we live in such a complex world?

You never know what to expect when you pick up a new Trader Joe’s pumpkin product. Sometimes the pumpkin is overwhelming, other times the pumpkin is more of a vague suggestion. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Scone Cookies fall into the former camp – very satisfactory, soft cookies with a very strong pumpkin taste.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Soft, sweet, pumpkin spiced cakes.
Price: $3.49 for 18 little cakes.
Worth it: Yes – they’re tasty little snacks.

When it comes to scones, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re signing up for. I’ve had soft scones and hard cones, sweet scones and salty scones, pretty round scones and massive, bumpy scones. These scones fall into the first category on all accounts – soft, sweet and small. In fact, they’re not really much like a typical scone at all. It looks like Trader Joe’s tried to head this off by sticking “cookie” on the end of the product title, although they could have just as well put “mini cake” or “petit four”.

Each one of Trader Joe’s 16 Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies are absolutely light and delicate – dainty, soft rounds of cake glazed with a light brown icing that sparkles subtly. In taste, they’re very much like lightly glazed, molasses cookies. In fact, looking at the ingredient list, they share many of the ingredients with a typical molasses cookie.

Where they differ, is the tremendous pumpkin taste packed in each little bite. I remember being shocked by the concentrated flavor in Trader Joe’s citrus-packed Key Lime Tea Cakes. While these aren’t quite that intense, they’re close.  TJ’s has clearly gone to great lengths to ensure each bite is permeated with not just redolent pumpkin spices, but also rich, pumpkin puree. As a result, just one of these little cookies goes a long ways. Each little nibble is packed with plenty of pumpkin flavor, and they’re soft enough and sweet enough to make the nibble experience quite pleasant.

They would certainly go very well with tea, or other hot, seasonal beverage, and look very well sitting on the plate. At only 120 calories per 2 cookies, they aren’t all that bad for you either – assuming you could stop yourself at two…

Trader Joe’s releases hundreds of new pumpking products every year, it feels like. But with these pumpkin-flavored scone cookies, they’ve succeed in coming up with the perfect seasonal snack. I wouldn’t necessarily stock my larder with them year round, but they manage to so nicely encapsulate something of the autumn feeling, that I’ll be looking forward to seeing them again next year.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, these are very snackable, little seasonal treats.

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I’ll pick some up again next year.

Final Synopsis: Pumpkin packed little molasses cookies.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Scone Cookies - Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps

At the intersection of “brownie” “cookie” and “not good”

Quick question, what’s the best part about brownies? The warm, chewy, goo-aliciousness, right? The chocolate is good, but if I was just interested in chocolate I’d be eating a chocolate bar or having a piece of fudge.

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

What it is: Over-baked brownie-like cookies
Price: $2.99 for a small 5 oz. bag
Worth it: No. Not at all.

No sir, when I go after a brownie, it’s for the distinct, almost startling clear, sensory image of biting into a warm, chewy and, yes, goo-alicious square of melted bliss. And also sometimes to get high – but that’s a different issue entirely and completely legal in many states.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps, then, are not just a disappointment but a failure of brownie-kind. Although brownies are promised what you actually receive are thin, hard, dry, brittle squares of brown cookie. These are like brownies in so far as a pop-tart is like a fresh raspberry torte. All of that ooey-gooey goodness is no where to be found, and in its place is nothing worthwhile or redeeming. Even if taken just as a cookie, these Brownie Crisps notably hard and dry. I’ve had chocolate chip cookies from a vending machine with more life than these.

These brownie “cookies” are, essentially, very badly over baked brownies. If I forgot I had some brownies in the oven and came back to find them absolutely parched and glued to the bottom of the pan, I’d throw them out. I most definitely wouldn’t chisel them out, package them and try and sell them to people.

Frankly, I over-cook brownies enough on my own time. If I wanted that experience, I’m free to pick up some of Trader Joe’s brownie mixes (such as their quick-bake or reduced guilt mixes) and go to town. For a pre-made brownie/cookie product I expect something a little better. They look especially lackluster coming, as they do, right on the heels of the actually delicious tea cookies I reviewed previously.

I’m kind of at a loss for what to do about these. Wasting food is something I almost never do – but I couldn’t interest anyone in taking a second bite, and I certainly am not going to be eating them myself.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Only if I wanted to disappoint someone.

Would I Buy Them Again: Definitely not.

Final Synopsis: Failure as a cookie. Failure as a brownie.

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies

Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies

Basically, this is like a dozen key limes.

It’s not often we get an outrageous blast of lime flavor in the pastry aisle, but that’s exactly what Trader Joe’s delivers with their new Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies. These tiny, bite-sized cookies pack shockingly big lime taste into each dainty nibble – a delightful way to mix-up your cookie munching schedule, tea or not.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Small, crunchy cookies with lots of lime.
Price: $3.99 for a 12 oz. tub
Worth it: Yes. Shockingly flavorful!

Take one bite of these and you’ll see what I mean about the lime flavor. It’s rare to have a Key lime pie, let alone a cookie, that contains this much lime flavor, and doubly surprising is that Trader Joe’s isn’t using any artificial flavoring or other tricky additives to achieve the goal. The only flavoring going into these is natural Key lime flavor. Wow.

Seriously, try one. It’s nearly too much lime flavor – like jelly-belly level lime flavor. Limier than a British sailor. That limey.

We haven’t looked at many of Trader Joe’s lime offerings, apart from the keffir lime in their Thai foods. Key lime is more than just an exotic marketing term – Key limes are a distinct sub-speices of everyone’s favorite green citrus fruit. Much smaller, rounder and more delicate than the typical Persian lime, the Key lime is actually native to South East Asia. It earned its modern moniker when it was brought to the Florida Keys by Spanish explorers and naturalized there, before rising to wider prominence in the early 1900’s due to the invention of its most popular form of consumption – the Key lime pie.

Other than the lime, these are pretty standard little butter cookies, thoroughly dusted by powdered sugar. By themselves they would be sweet, crumbly and pleasant little treat, but the extra lime taste really sets them aside from the crowd of cookie offerings at Trader Joe’s.

Good though they are, these tea cookies don’t go particularly well with tea. Their dainty size and powdery complexion makes them look well upon a saucer, but that aren’t particularly practical. The best tea cookies, or tea biscuits as they are also known, are dunkable team players. These tea cookies don’t do either of those things very well. They’re small enough that you can’t dunk more than, maybe, a third of the way down, and thick enough that they don’t really saturate well, and the powder means that your finger end up tacky and dusty if you try it.

For enjoying with a good cup of Ceylon black I personally prefer a milder cookie that quietly sops up the brew – something for a pleasant exploration of texture instead of taste. Nevertheless, these Key lime cookies are palette pleasers, and if sitting down to some tea gave me an excuse to help myself to one or two I’d be pretty likely to do so.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes indeed. Flavorful and and rich.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, these are up there with my favorite Trader Joe’s cookies.

Final Synopsis: Small butter cookies with big lime flavor.

Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites

Trader Joe's Turkish Fig Bites

Trader Joe’s Not Quite Fig Newtons

Broadly speaking, Trader Joe’s products fall into three categories:

Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites fall squarely into that final category. As should be clear from the packaging alone, these are Trader Joe’s own take on that classic, love-’em-or-hate-’em after-school snack, the Nabisco Fig Newton.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: Fig Newtons, by Trader Joe’s
Price: $1.99 for a 10 0z. pack
Worth it: Yes. They’re not perfect, but they’re cheap

Usually, when Trader Joe’s goes through the trouble of re-creating an another brands product in their own image they actually end up improving on it. TJ’s seems to have a genuine devotion to only putting their name on quality products that they stand behind, which is truly laudable in this day and age. For example, when they recently released their take on the Sour Patch Kid candy with sweet-and-sour T’s and J’s gummies, I found myself strongly preferring Trader Joe’s delicious, nuanced flavors and all-natural ingredients to actual Sour Patch Kids.

It’s unusual, then, that Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites fall short of the original Fig Newton. You’d think that improving on these would be a piece of cake (or fruit and cake, as the case may be), but instead TJ’s delivers an inferior version – heavier on the dry cake, with less fruit.

This is a particularly surprising outcome given the super pretty packaging, which manages to bite on the Fig Newton’s signature “yellow” look, while also keeping Trader Joe’s signature quaint whimsy. How could such attention to detail on the packaging be betrayed by underwhelming contents? Well, I guess that’s just life, isn’t it?

Figs are something Trader Joe’s does well, and in fact we’ve looked at them several times before, along with their incredible mythic history. And, in fact, the fig part isn’t all that bad. Trader Joe’s promises Turkish figs, which I’m sure these are, but you’d be hard pressed to tell, given the serious mushing and processing they necessarily undergo to be worked into a sweetened cookie.

No, it’s the “Newton” part that Trader Joe’s has trouble with. Nabisco must have found just the right recipe to deliver their original drupe-based treat to the world, because no one else ever seems to get it quite right. The generic fig roll snack you come across in drug store always tend to be too dry. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have that problem, but instead screw up the fig to cake ratio – giving you way too much thick and bready cake to the relatively meager amount of filling. It’s simply not all that satisfying to bite into, giving you a dry mouth without enough sweet fruit to balance it out.

To compare I bought a box of Nabisco brand Newtons and compared them side by side. As you can see the Nabisco Netwons are much more refined looking – an elegant balance of just enough dough to the filling. As a result the Nabisco Newtons are much more snackable, while the Trader Joe’s “Newtons” tire you out after two or three.

Trader Joe's Fig Newton Comparison

Trader Joe’s Fig Bites on top, Nabisco Fig Newton on bottom

Of course, if it’s the price you’re considering Trader Joe’s more than compensates for its short comings. Each package of Trader Joe’s Fig Bites is a mere $1.99, in comparison to the $5 and up you’ll be asked to pay for Fig Newtons. I may not like TJ’s version quite as much as Nabisco’s, but that price point make a compelling argument for choosing them anyway.

By the way, before I get out of here – just what is a “Newton”?

It turns out that Fig Newtons don’t owe their name to the revered Grandfather of Gravity (a connection that I always presumed and found troubling, given the absence of apple), but to the humble town of Newton, Mass. where they were first made by the Kennedy Steam Bakery all the way back in 1891. And now you know!


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Not really, the original Fig Newton is better.

Would I Buy Them Again: The price is low enough, and I’m enough of a cheapskate, that I probably would.

Final Synopsis: Fig Newton knockoffs for a reasonable price.

Trader Joe's Turkish Fig Bites - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodle

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles!…?

Trader Joe’s offers many cookies, but aside from the occasional Joe-Joe, I don’t usually bother to review them on this blog. A cookie is, in general, a cookie. There’s no need for a reviewer to tell you how Trader Joe’s big bucket of animal crackers taste – you can imagine that pretty well on your own. The intent of this blog, as stated so long ago, is to review those products that are so strange/weird/interesting that you just have to wonder what the hell is up with them.

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodle cookie is one such product – promising soft, from the box snickerdoodles that are also gluten-free and vegan. How could such a thing be possible, short of selling one’s soul to Satan? I can’t imagine, and I’m not necessarily even going to rule out that possibility, because somehow those magnificent bastards have managed to pull it off – an amazingly soft and chewy, and very tasty, vegan, gluten-free cookie.

Just don’t call it a snickerdoodle.

The traditional snickerdoodle is a basic sugar cookie that has been dusted in cinnamon sugar – originally a New England creation, and named in the whimsical fashion those folks share for baked goods (see also Raspberry BramblesTangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles. It’s a simple pleasure, but a good one.

In the course of making their soft baked, vegan, gluten-free snickerdoodles, Trader Joe’s necessarily had to leave out the core ingredients of the sugar cookie – namely the flour, butter and eggs. In their place TJ’s has leverged such ingredients as evaporated pear juice, date paste, and sorghum wheat.

The resulting cookie is still very good, but it just doesn’t quite taste like a sugar cookie or a snickerdoodle. The replaced ingredients result in a very dense and moist cookie, a delight to chew upon, but with a subtly fruity (almost fig newton like) undertone.

Even more unusual, these snickerdoodles don’t taste very much like cinnamon. Whether this is because too much cinamon would have thrown off the delicate balance of the vegan ingredients or what, I don’t know – all I can say is that there’s not so much a “cinnamon sugar” taste to the cookie as there is a hint of cinnamon that hangs around in the aftertaste.

But honestly, this is just splitting hairs. The cookie is a good one – rich and tasty and, most importantly, delicately soft – without involving any artificial preservatives, gluten, animal products, peanuts, or tree nuts.

If you’re looking for an amazing snickerdoodle, you can look elsewhere. If you want an amazing cookie that meets all your nutritional requirements and still stays soft, look no further.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, especially if you live a gluten free or vegan lifestyle

Would I Buy It Again: Honestly, I probably won’t – I scarfed these down much to quickly. Not a diet safe purchase.

Final Synopsis: Excellent, soft and chewy cookies that aren’t actually snickerdoodles.

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodles – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies

Trader Joe’s is just daring you to FREAK OUT!

Hold the presses! Hold the presses once again folks, for Trader Joe’s has unleashed a new form of cookie butter delivery system upon the world. This time they’ve packaged their joyful condiment in the form of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies – a delicious butter cookie / cookie butter sandwich.

If you’re not familiar with cookie butter, and that would truly be tragedy, you can better educate yourself on the topic here, here, here, here and here. Basically any time Trader Joe’s develops some new application of this most delicious cookie spread I will be there to buy it. If you don’t have the time to work your way through the backlog of posts, the tl;dr version goes like this:

Cookie Butter is like peanut butter – only it’s made from the delicious European cookie speculoos instead of peanuts. It tastes so good that once you eat it you will generate a sort of free-floating anger at the world for not inventing it sooner. HOWEVER – cookie butter is also a curse. It is so truly wonderful in and of itself that combining it with anything only seems to dilute its goodness.

The sorry truth is that the best way to enjoy Cookie Butter is to just spoon it directly into your mouth like a decadent Roman emperor. Trader Joe’s has tried numerous times to improve upon cookie butter, and each time they have failed. Cookie butter and Nutella failed, Oreo cookie butter fell short, and even Cookie Butter Cheesecake fell short of the mark set by a simple spoonful of cookie butter, eaten all by itself.

Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s refuses to give up on the dream of improving cookie butter. Which leads to the periodic release of new developments such as our speciment today – Cookie sandwiches with cookie butter.

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies 1

As pretty as macaroons but way better tasting.

How did they do this time? Well, first off, it’s cookie butter, so it’s pretty damn good. More specifically, however, it’s really damn good. It’s hard to see where they could improve on these sandwich cookies. Two simple, but sweet and flaky butter cookies are sandwiched around a thick swathe of divine cookie butter. The result is a really handy way to get cookie butter into your mouth without getting your fingers sticky.

It’s in the use of plain butter cookies that Trader Joe’s really succeeds on this count. I’m sure that someone suggested using speculoos cookies for the two cookie halves, they may have even tried it, but that would only have muddled the decadent cookie butter taste. On the other hand, these basic butter cookies simply stay out of the way. They provide a nice crunch, and a nice mild sweetness but don’t get in the way of the main attraction. You really taste the cookie butter in these cookies, and not much else. That shows that TJ’s is learning. Come for the cookie butter and get the cookie butter- it’s an easy formula but a winning one.

There’s only one point I found myself disappointed on – and that is dunkability. With any sandwich cookie – oreo or otherwise – the mind immediately turns to a glass of cool, dunkable milk. Now there are certainly a plurality of theories on the perfect way to dunk a cookie, but the general consensus holds that you want a sort of al dente toothsomeness – yielding but not too soft. Unfortunately, the butter cookies involved here don’t lend themselves to that at all. Denser and not as porous as an Oreo, you’ll have to hold one of these cookies under the surface a long time before they even start absorbing milk. The butter cookies give you that “water off a ducks back” phenomenon, keeping the core resolutely dry no matter how much you dunk. Phooey. If they’d stuck the landing it would have been a solid 5 star performance.

Are these cookie sandwiches any better than cookie butter by itself? Not better, but almost as good – and that’s saying something. By keeping it clean and simple, you end up getting that same delightful cookie butter taste, with a bit of added crunchiness. If you want to think of these as a great all around cookie to serve anytime, or as a less barbaric way to get your cookie butter intake, you wouldn’t be poorly served. You can chalk this up as another “W” on the cookie butter scoreboard.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is an awesome new way to eat cookie butter.

Would I Buy It Again: Definitely, if I could trust myself around it.

Final Synopsis: Delicious cookie butter sandwiched between two pleasantly low key butter cookies.

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe Joe's

You’ll need to come back and look at this again in a minute.

It seems high time I review Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s. After Trader Joe’s introduced us to the Joe Joe all over again with their amazing, new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter, it seems like the perfect time to examine the Joe-Joe itself a little more deeply.

Joe-Joe’s are, simply put, the Trader Joe’s version of Oreos. Never seeing a popular product that they didn’t think they could do themselves, both cheaper and better, TJ’s has bypassed Nabisco and stocked their shelves with their own take on the iconic black and white, frosting-filled cookie. It’s these cocoa and vanilla crème cookies that have been blended down into a mind-melting emollient in the super delicious Cookie and Creme Cookie Butter, but Trader Joe’s hasn’t limited their cookie palette to just one type.

Just as the Nabisco Oreo has boldly gone off in new, sometimes insane, flavor directions with their cookie (trying out such elaborate concoctions as Birthday Cake Oreos, Root Beer Float Oreos, Watermelon Oreos, and even Cookie Dough Oreos), Trader Joe’s has sought to follow suit – bringing to the table a diverse, although more limited, selection that includes Peppermint, Chocolate Creme, Vanilla Sandwich, and more. This being the time of Pumpkin Madness, Trader Joe’s has of course engineered a brand new, entirely seasonal variety – the pumpkin Joe Joe.

The Pumpkin Joe-Joe is both what you’re expecting and not what you’re expecting. Based on the box art I assumed this was going to be a variation on the Vanilla Sandwich variety – vanilla cookies on the outside, with some sort of vaguely pumpkin-y icing on the inside. I, once again, was underestimating TJ’s devotion to pumpkin. While the filling is, indeed, average and pumpkin flavored so are the cookies. The whole thing, top to bottom, is one pumpkin flavored cookie ready to meet all your pumpkin-flavored cookie needs. Of course, that need for pumpkin-flavored cookies is small and fleeting, so one box of these will probably do you about right, assuming that you feel any such need at all.

I for one, certainly didn’t. While I applaud Trader Joe’s continued efforts to jam pumpkin into life’s every nook and cranny, there are some times it works out beautifully, and some times you just have to shrug. The pumpkin flavored Joe-Joes fall into the later camp. Joe-Joe cookies are creamy, crunchy and delicious. It could even be argued they’re superior to the Oreo cookie itself. On that grounds there’s no reason to turn these down – on the other hand, these cookies scratch exactly one itch, and that’s idle novelty. The pumpkin is there in an after-the-fact sort of way. When you bite in you’ll taste a sort of fairly sweet, cinnamon/nutmeg spiciness, which is quite nice. There is a hint of pumpkin taste that lingers in the bite, then you swallow and it’s gone. Gone, but not forgotten. Pumpkin has that magic sort of touch that lingers in the mouth long after the swallow and it’s in full force here. Once the cookie is gone, and the stronger, sugary tastes have vanished, the aftertaste of pumpkin emerges from hiding, declaring “Yes, you ate something with pumpkin in it.”

It’s not a bad trick, really, and if you’re planning to have people over for a harvest party or throwing a Halloween get together for your class, these will be kind of cool to have out. They’re reasonably good, but they’re not replacements for the classic variety. Will you miss them when they’re gone? No more than the Watermelon Oreo’s, I would imagine.

The real value of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s, as far as I’m concerned is the box art. I believe this may provide a window into Trader Joe’s Pumpkin fevered mind. On one side of the box, we’re presented with a perspective-less landscape, irregular pumpkin shapes ominously crowding the foreground. Amongst these, three of the pumpkins have strangely “turned into” Joe-Joe cookies, still featuring their pumpkin stems and unchanged in size. Is it possible this is how Trader Joe’s fevered pumpkin-geneers see the world? Do food objects occasionally waver before their eyes, super-imposing themselves on top of pumpkins, like the vision of a starving man in a Bugs Bunny cartoon?

On closer inspection, the land which the scene takes place on also appears unusual. Huge, round, orange hills with long striations extend one past another, blotting out the horizon – as if the land itself was reduced to pumpkins, the world nothing but one endless, ever-mounting series of incomprehensible pumpkins.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe Joe's 2

Don’t gaze to long, lest the Pumpkin Madness claim you too!

The other side of the box is much more disturbing, and exceeds my ability to fully analyze. We’re presented, jarringly, with a flattened, distended pickup truck. It too is dwarfed by the many pumpkins that crowd the image – including three massive towering pumpkins that overflow the truck itself, dwarfing it with their inexplicable size. This is to be expected from Trader Joe’s pumpkin psychosis – but the truck is not so easily understood. One headlight is blank, the other ringed by concentric circles, like two wildly staring eyes.  The truck seems to almost have one of those cartoon car faces – a nose, eyes, a mouth – except twisted and disturbing. The blank eyes point directly at the viewer from the trucks “face”, its huge, broken, irregular grill spread into a wide deranged grin. It brings you the pumpkins. It brings you the huge, alien pumpkins whether you want them or not. It brings you the pumpkins, regardless of its own will, regardless of any will but the pumpkins own, driverlessly bearing down on you from the hill side. It brings you pumpkins, from the heart of madness – pumpkins, pumpkins, PUMPKINS!

 

Happy Halloween everyone!