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Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls 1

Simple and yet complicated – a classic TJ’s confection

Fresh madness, straight from the howling bowels of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Innovation Labs (TJPIL), but oh, what sweet madness this is.

Take a quick poll of your friends and co-workers and ask them to name a spice they naturally associate with pumpkin. Ginger? Did they say ginger? Probably not – not unless they’re in the habit of whipping up their own pumpkin pie spice from scratch. Despite the seeming disconnect between pumpkin and ginger, it does make a subtle appearance as a traditional pumpkin pie spice, along side cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Small, pumpkin-ginger ice cream sandwiches.
Price: $3.99 for a 12 tiny sandwiches
Worth it: Yes. Pumpkin and ginger works, baby!

For some reason, the TJPIL decided to pass right by those more likely ice cream companions and go straight for the ginger. And you know what – I’m delighted that they did. Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls are exactly right – a perfect balance of sweet pumpkin ice cream with a dash of tingling ginger, sandwiched between two soft, ginger cookies.

I think we can all agree that it’s hard to screw up an ice cream sandwich as it is. Cookies are great, ice cream is great – putting the two together is pretty much going to be a grand slam. And yet, TJ’s mini ice cream mouthfuls go above and beyond. This seasonal ginger pumpkin variety is a fall addition to their mini ice cream sandwich line, which already includes a mint ice cream version for the summer. All of the varieties show the same attention to creamy delicious detail.

Miniaturizing ice cream sandwiches down to finger food form is actually a bit of a brilliant idea. Often times the “worst” part of an ice cream sandwich (“worst” here, in the sense of the “worst” part of winning the lottery, or the “worst” part of all your wildest dreams coming true) are the bits where they cookie is too thick and dry, the ice cream to far away. With these mini ice cream mouthfuls, you never find yourself in such a predicament. Like the inverse of Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies, or Chicken Pot Pie Bites, you actually get less crust and more filling.

Speaking of that filling – Trader Joe’s uses they’re usual, delicious pumpkin ice cream. If you haven’t had it, rest assured that it tastes far more like sweet and creamy than pumpkiny. On the other hand, there’s plenty of ginger in these frosty bites. If pumpkin puts you off, you might well still enjoy these. If ginger puts you off, however, you’ll probably want to give the a pass.

As for me, I couldn’t get enough of these. Each box holds a dozen of the little bites, but I could have eaten twice as many and not been satisfied. Ginger and pumpkin ice cream – who knew they’d work so well together?


The Breakdown

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, if I could trust myself around them.

Would I Recommend Them: Absolutely, very tasty.

Final Synopsis: Tiny ginger and pumpkin ice cream sandwiches that taste even better than they sound.

Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls – Nutrition Facts

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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


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter

Seeing new cookie butter turns me into Cookie Monster right in the store. “COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE… butter”

Oh no. Now I’m really starting to get alarmed. Trader Joe’s has innaugarated this year’s Pumpkin Madness in a big way – with the introduction of a brand new type of cookie butter – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Cookie Butter.

Ranking: 5 stars 5 stars

What it is: Cookie butter that tastes like pumpkin pie.
Price: $3.99 for a 14.1 oz jar.
Worth it: Yes – it’s cookie butter.

Look, on the one hand this is nothing if not welcome news. Any time Trader Joe’s wants to expand their absolutely heavenly line of cookie butter products is fine by me. Previous entries include Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter, Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and Nutella, Trader Joe’s Oreo-based Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter, not to mention all the countless offshoots and ancillary confections made with that tongue-melting, heart-stopping emulsified cookie sweetness.

In certain ways, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Cookie Butter is the most radical new member to the family. Here, for the first time ever, do we have a cookie butter not actually based on any real cookie. This is a huge move, on par with the introduction of the Cookies and Creme cookie butter. That Oreo-based cookie butter excited me because it suggested Trader Joe’s would start introducing new cookie butters based on entirely different types of cookies, not just the gold standard speculoos cookie. Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter takes it one step further, throwing the doors open to any sort of spice or confection imaginable.

This terrifies me slightly – in the same way that staring into the unshielded face of God himself would terrify me. Trader Joe’s has essentially taken us all one huge step closer to just selling us frosting as a sandwich spread. The Cookies and Creme cookie butter was close enough already – without cookies in the equation, there’s nothing holding them back. Give it a few more years, and we’ll be seeing Trader Joe’s Tahitian Vanilla “Cookie Butter” spread, that’s nothing more than a screw-top jar of creamy delicious frosting that we’ll all have been Pavlovian conditioned eat straight from the jar. Is that the dystopia or utopia?

Or maybe I’m just getting over excited. In any case, this is a delicious new entry into the cookie butter family. It tastes just like you hope a pumpkin pie spice cookie butter would taste. A sweet hint of pumpkin is the first taste that will hits your tongue, as well as the lingering aftertaste. In between, you’ll be treated to a gooey, nuanced mix of cookie bits, with pumpkin puree, pumpkin powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

Instead of speculoos cookies this time around, Trader Joe’s makes use of some sort of pumpkin, sugar cookie crumbs. These cookie crumbs are made with pumpkin puree and organic pumpkin powder, but they’re much too small to really get a taste of. This forms the basis for the crunchy bits of cookie crumb in the mix (more like crunchy cookie butter than the creamy kind), but it’s actually the least delicious part. Far more interesting are the complex notes of the pumpkin pie spices, and the enduring pumpkin flavor, all of which are captured in excellent clarity.

More than anything this cookie butter tastes like a slice of pumpkin pie (complete with crust) that has been blended down into delicious sludge – a gooey pumpkin pie in a jar. How amazing would it be to make a pumpkin pie out of this pumpkin spice cookie butter, rather than traditional pumpkin filling? Pumpkin Pie-ception

Like all other types of cookie butter, the biggest question is, “What do you actually do with this stuff?” The most obvious answer is “just spoon it straight into your face”, but for those of us who try to maintain a bit of decorum, it’s also great on waffle, pancakes and even in peanut butter sandwiches. It can also work as a seasonal dip for pretzels, apples or even celery.

Another big question – is Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter actually any better than Trader Joe’s regular cookie butter? Once again, I have to say that while this is interesting addition and delicious in its own right, it still doesn’t dethrone our glorious reigning king, the original cookie butter. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addtion to my patry this autumn and, a seasonal treat to be looked forward to like egg nog or Halloween candy. Here’s hoping it returns again next year.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: It’s cookie butter, so yeah.

Would I Buy It Again: I have, like, three different cookie butters in my cabinet right now. Of course I will.

Final Synopsis: Pumpkin cookie based cookie butter, with plenty of pumpkin spices.


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Panettone

The kind of panettone Jack Skellington would have been made.

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.

Ranking: 3 stars 

3 star ranking

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.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Panettone 2

Pannettone – featuring candied pumpkin and pumpkin creme.

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.


The Breakdown

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.


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 Salted Caramel Gelato

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato

Man, doesn’t that look delicious? How could that not be delicious?

Oh, what a disappointment you are Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato. Trader Joe’s has brought so many wonderful things into my life, I try and not get too let down when something falls flat. They dream big, and for that, at the very least, they deserves our every consideration of leniency. And yet I am simply crushed by overwhelmingly lackluster execution of what could have been a mouth-melting delight.

Deserts, like everything else in life, can be broken down into closely detailed hierarchy of what-beats-what (this is the sort of thing usually done by bored nerds. For instance, me, right now). The way I see it, frozen deserts generally beat baked deserts (ice cream beats cake). Within the domain of frozen treats, we have ice cream at the bottom, then sherbet, then sorbet, and finally, at the very top, theoretically you have your gelato.

Unfortunately, what we have here is a failure of gelato. What I look for in a good gelato is something creamy, dense and bursting with rich, overwhelming flavor. For something like salted caramel it seems like this should be a grand slam. Salted caramel, so simple but under-appreciated for so long, is one of the most satisfying flavors on the market. When it comes to intense, tongue pleasing tastes, there are ways to get fancier with it (and ice cream makers certainly twist themselves in knots coming out with convoluted, over-the-top flavors), but you just can’t beat the simple blast of savory and sweet you get from a well executed salted caramel. My tongue tingles just thinking about that rich buttery sugar melting into flashes of brilliant salty bursts.

This is the first gelato Trader Joe’s has ever brought to market, and it makes sense to choose such a decadent flavor – so why does Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato fail so badly?

Mainly, there really isn’t anything interesting going on here. The gelato is creamy, but lightweight – more like a scoop of Rite Aid Thrifty brand vanilla than a premium ice cream experience. This wouldn’t be such a failure if the gelato itself was as rich, sweet or salty as you might expect it to be. Instead of being blasted by a tongue-grabbing saltiness or charmed by impossibly sweet and creamy custard, you’re presented with a blandly “meh” sort of middle of the road flavor. Less creamy than their vanilla, less sweet and savory than their cookie butter ice cream, there’s no reason to come back to this mediocre confection.

In fact, Trader Joe’s has a plethora of delectable ice cream treats to choose from. Despite the name on this bucket, don’t expect it to beat out any of the other ones. I’d buy much more likely to buy another half gallon of Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Frozen Desert before I bought more of this – not just because it’d be healthier, but because the vegan soy milk is at least doing something interesting with flavor.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No way – go for the Cookie Butter ice cream first.
Would I Buy It Again: Not so long as I have any other choice.
Final Synopsis: “Salted” “Caramel” “Gelato” that fails to live up to any part of the name.

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Humanah-humanah-humanah!

Yowza, cookie butter is back – this time in bite-sized cheesecake form! Let out the angelic choir and ring the church bell until it cracks – happy days are here again!

Or wait a minute. Am I being too hasty?

After all, didn’t Trader Joe’s full-sized Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake fall a little short of the mark? And isn’t it true that while Speculoos Cookie Butter is, by itself, the finest achievement humankind has ever produced, that most of Trader Joe’s cookie butter spin offs have suffered from the difficulty of living up to the bar set by their near-perfect progenitor?

Yes, as we’ve seen time and time again, speculoos cookie butter, when mixed with other things, is almost never as good as cookie butter by itself. Yes, these cheesecake bites are delicious – delicate, decadent and the perfect size to indulge on without feeling guilty. However, while they succeed as cheesecake bites, they don’t actually taste like cookie butter.

This probably isn’t the end of the world. Any cheesecake is better than no cheesecake, and certainly speculoos cheesecake bites are much better than no cheesecake bites at all. They only real problem I have is, if you’re going to sell me on cookie butter, I expect the cookie butter to be there. In this case, despite the mouthwatering nature of each pretty little bite, there just isn’t any cookie butter taste to speak of.

Even though the top of each bite is swirled with a little smear of cookie butter, that taste doesn’t come through. There’s some magic something in cookie butter that is lost as soon as you start blending it into other deserts, and in this case it’s lost almost completely. Compare these to the Trader Joe’s full-sized cookie butter cheesecake. That whole cake was layered with a thick schmear of delicious speculoos, and it still lost something in the execution.

On the other hand, this is Trader Joe’s very first foray into making cheesecake bites, and as an experimental product, I love it! It’s a cold, hard fact that cheesecake is the best damn desert a person can hope for – and it’s an equally cold, hard fact that if you eat more than a slice and a half of cheesecake in one sitting your heart will clog up and explode. These cheesecake bites allow you to indulge in a bite-sized square (or three) of cheesecake, satisfying that craving without blowing out all your fitness goals.

As a way to get people on board for bite-sized cheesecake squares, it makes sense to launch the product with that cookie butter name recognition. However, as a cookie butter product, they don’t really stand up to scrutiny. TJ, you should have more faith in your delicious cheesecake recipe – these are delicious by themselves, with or without cookie butter.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yup, as long as you aren’t hankering for a cookie butter fix.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, the next time a cheesecake craving strikes.

Final Synopsis: Great as little bites of cheesecake, not so great as a cookie butter delivery system.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites – Nutrition Facts