Like a lake effect blizzard, the holiday season has descended on Trader Joe’s – only instead of snow, we find ourselves mired in drifts of seasonal holiday offerings. From artisanal mustard sets, to tea samplers to the return of Pink Himalyan Truffle Salt, the shelves are again overflowing with slightly over-priced, niche items in attractive packaging. Frankly, I love it. Trader Joe’s holiday gifts are the second most jolly time of the year for a Trader Joe’s food review blogger – second only, of course, to the annual Pumpkin Madness.
Our impulse buy today is Trader Joe’s Triple Tiered Chocolates. This is one of those ideas that’s so stupid it’s brilliant or, possibly, vice-versa. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else before, because the idea has been sitting in plain sight for decades. Simply put, TJ has taken slice of white chocolate, a slice of milk chocolate, and a slice of dark chocolate and stacked them all together into one chimeric, hybrid chocolate treat.
There are two things going on here with this new chocolate, and I’ll start with the most important one. This is unmistakably a gift item first, and a chocolate treat second. The difference is sometimes subtle, but basically comes down to the packaging. From the box design, to the font, to the presentation of the chocolates themselves, Trader Joe’s Triple Tiered Chocolates have been designed to look good first and taste good second.
Chocolate is a very safe niche in the holiday gift giving world, and this product fills it expertly. Just look at the box, for instance. Who packages seven chocolates in a box only 3 inches wide and 18 inches long? Someone who’s trying to make an impact with fancy packaging, that’s who. Hand this out to a co-worker / in-law / mail carrier and you’re going to get a little an “Aww” on the box alone . No question – it makes an impact.
But once we actually get the box open, how do the chocolates themselves stand up? Well, for one, they’re chocolate. As we’ve talked about before there’s not really any such thing as “bad” chocolate. Having any chocolate is a preferable existence to having no chocolate, and this is by no means a bad chocolate – although Trader Joe’s makes things tricky by combining the three different types together.
While there are certainly plenty of people who define themselves as “chocolate lovers”, these people generally break along the dark chocolate / milk chocolate line. Combine those two into one chocolate, and then add a layer of the always divisive white chocolate, and you have a confection that’s going to simultaneously delight and disappoint people.
You could bring up the argument here that Trader Joe’s probably didn’t need to bring in white chocolate at all. After all, white chocolate isn’t even technically a chocolate, but a sugar-and-fat-derived chocolate wannabe. Considering that a simple milk chocolate / dark chocolate blend would be sure to sell just as many boxes, if not more boxes, than one that also includes white chocolate, I makes you think that maybe the white chocolate is just there to be visually pleasing.
While I’m sure that’s true to some extent, the white chocolate here actually elevates Trader Joe’s Triple Tiered Chocolates to a strange new level. Never, before taking a bite of this stuff, have I stuck these three very different types of chocolate into my mouth at the same time. The result is something I wasn’t expecting – the flavors melt into one another in a complex interplay. The waxy, sugary taste of the white chocolate, normally cloying, is ameliorated by the flow of the sweet milk chocolate and bitter dark. The result is an intriguing storm of cocoa and sugar, teasing your taste buds this way and that. Certainly enjoyable to savor as it melts upon the tongue.
Unfortunately the chocolates are too big to pop into your mouth all at once. Instead, you have to bite through the three, firm, thick layers – a surprisingly difficult feat. Even after you manage it, the chocolate layers have a tendency to come apart under the pressure, leaving you a potential mess in your fingers.
All in all, I’m satisfied with the purchase. It makes an interesting gift, but also manages to stand on it’s own as an intriguing, if not overwhelming, chocolate confection.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, this could make a nice Christmas gift.
Would I Buy It Again: Not for myself, maybe for others.
Final Synopsis: A handful of novelty chocolates in fancy packaging.
Hmmm. Well, this is probably proof that the top brass at Trader Joe’s are devoted followers of this blog. No sooner do I suggest that TJ come up with a few more variations on their new Toasted Coconut Pancale Mix then does this appear on the shelf – Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Pancake Mix. It’s arrived just in time for the holiday festivities, so let’s dive in!
In my Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix review, I pointed out that while the coconut bits are pretty good, the real winner was the incredibly easy to make pancake mix itself. Trader Joe’s has brought to market a totally self-contained pancake kit that incorporates powdered eggs and powdered milk into the mix itself. All you need to supply is the water – either a little to end up with big puffy flapjacks, or a lot to end up with thin, dense crepes. This time around TJ’s ditched the coconut, and whipped up something much more in tune with the time of year – a gingerbread infused mix with crystallized ginger bits tossed right in.
While this sounds like it should be a grand slam, the pancake mix suffers from the unique problem of not being gingery enough, and being too gingery at the same time.
There are really two types of ginger in this pancake mix. The first is the ginger present in the gingerbread-like pancake batter itself. This is ginger doing the classic gingerbread thing, providing a pleasant aromatic lift to the rest of the dough and contributing just a hint of ginger taste. I was actually a little disappointed by how mild the ginger taste was in the pancake batter. Given the premise of “gingerbread pancakes”, I had assumed we’d be getting something akin to gingerbread cookies, just in a fluffier form. That’s not actually the case – this pancake mix is more gingerbread-inspired then gingerbread-infused. It tastes somewhat of gingerbread, but not so much that you would mistake it for a cookie in a blind taste test. While that’s a little disappointing to me personally, it’s by no means a deal breaker. The molasses, brown sugar and powdered ginger that do go in give it at least a hint of that warm and lovely taste of gingerbread, while retaining the supple mildness of the good ol’ fashioned pancake.
However, there is another issue. Possibly in order to compensate for the only mildly gingery batter, Trader Joe’s mixes in a heaping scoop of crystallized ginger bits. Not unlike it’s cousin Trader Joe’s Crispy Coconut Pancakes, the ginger bits are numerous, and wind up in each bite. The problem is that bits of crystallized ginger just don’t taste that great in pancakes. There are a couple issues with it – the abrupt combination of textures, the fact that the heavy bits are prone to burn on the griddle – but the biggest issue is that ginger isn’t really an easy spice to use.
Although it’s commonly found in sweets in the form of gingerbread cookies, ginger is
actually better suited for savory dishes, as in Indian and Thai cuisine – not sweet ones. Gingerbread only really works because the ginger is spread out through a good deal of sugar and thick batter. The crystallized ginger lumps in this pancake mix don’t taste like gingerbread at all – they just take like intense bits of ginger. These little gingery bursts don’t go particularly well with maple syrup and butter – instead they sort of throw the flavor off by hitting you with an abrupt, strong, clashing taste. And I say this as a crystallized ginger fan! For years I kept a little box of crystalized ginger in my desk drawer to snack on for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I only stopped when it became clear that fusing my molars together with sugar-caked, sweet glue was not beneficial to healthy tooth enamel.
In the end, what you’re left with is a pretty tasty gingerbread(ish) pancake mix, with a bunch of intense ginger mixed in. The result is something that tastes less like a holiday treat and more like something from an Asian Fusion brunch special. It’s not terrible – but it is very striking. While it’s certainly interesting to try, if you’re looking for something to delight the kids with on Xmas morning this may not be the way to go.
Trader Joe, if you are taking suggestions from me now, keep the pancake mix but don’t stop trying out new flavors.
Would I Recommend It: Not really. Ginger pancakes are interesting, but not incredible.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll probably go back to the toasted coconut pancakes.
Final Synopsis: Nice gingerbready pancakes loaded up with too much ginger.