I’ve been hammering Trader Joe’s pumpkin-flavored frozen treats hard recently. We looked at TJ’s Pumpkin Ice Cream, we’ve looked at their (even more delicious?) mini pumpkin and ginger ice cream sandwiches, surely you’re thinking we’ve got nowhere to go from here.
|What it is:||Pumpkin ice cream balls, wrapped in tender mochi.|
|Price:||$3.49 for 6 mochi|
|Worth it:||Yes. These are awesome!|
That’s where you’re wrong, friend, because I’ve saved the best for last, with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream. Just go out and buy some right now and then eat them in your car. Frequently commenter Mara revealed recently that Trader Joe’s mini pumpkin ice cream sandwiches winked at her so delectably that she had to eat the entire box in the parking lot. This is an activity I understand all too well. What I’m saying to you now is, when it comes to Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream that’s not even optional. In all seriousness I want to open the box up, in your car or on the bus or while roaring down the road on your ‘roided up hog, and pop one in your mouth. Don’t even wait, just do it.
What Trader Joe’s has done is taken their delightful pumpkin ice cream to the next level. Any ice cream is improved by enclosing it soft mochi, but TJ’s pumpkin pie ice cream – with it’s warm, delightful notes of cinnamon and nutmeg – really becomes something amazing.
Mochi, for those who may not be familiar, is a traditionally Japanese food. What it is, literally, is rice. Cooked rice that has been pounded over and over again until it forms into the sticky, chewy, malleable and unspeakably tender blob called mochi. In Japan it’s closely associated with festivals and big holidays, and is used in all sorts of sweets or just eaten by itself. The masterstroke of mochi, though, is in using it to hold little pockets of ice cream. A thin layer of soft, gently floured mochi (to prevent sticking) is wrapped around a good sized scoop of ice cream. As a result, you can hold it directly in your hand without worrying about it melting, while also enjoying the pleasant chewiness of the mochi-ice cream combo. It is, essentially, the Japanese take on the ice cream sandwich – only better.
Most Trader Joes’ carry the Mikawaya brand of mochi ice cream in a variety of common flavors (vanilla, strawberry, and green tea). Only Trader Joe’s, however, offers something as crazy as Pumpkin Pie Mochi. Surprisingly, TJ’s doesn’t just use their premium pumpkin ice cream in these mochi, but instead has formulated a slightly different version (referred to in the name, as you may have noticed, as pumpkin pie ice cream). The main difference seems to be that the mochi ice cream freezes harder than the notoriously soft pumpkin ice cream, although I’d swear that the pumpkin pie ice cream actually tastes a little more pumpkin-y than the pumpkin ice cream itself. (This is another instance of a weird quirk at TJ’s where offshoot products sometimes taste more authentic than the progenitor product. Cf. TJ’s Sriracha hot sauce vs. TJ’s Sriracah Ranch) It’s also worth noting that they got the fat content under control in these mochi bites – only 20 calories from fat per ball.
In any case, you can’t go wrong with these. If you’ve never had mochi ice cream before, do yourself a favor and pick one up. If you have had mochi ice cream before, you’ll want to add these to your arsenal. Of all the pumpkin products I’ve had at TJ’s this October, these mochi balls might be the most surprising and delicious.
By the way, one last tip – if you’ve never tried it, leave one of these out for a few minutes to melt slightly. The mochi will safely keep all the ice cream inside. Taking a bite of a partially melted ball that’s approaching room temperature is a heavenly experience.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, a great combination of chewy and chilly.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, I’ll be crushed if they don’t have them again next year.
Final Synopsis: Mochi improves any ice cream.
If you’ve made it this far through October, and you haven’t tired Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream yet, I would be surprised. Who could resist the unusual appeal of that bright orange tub winking at your from the frozen food section? It may only come around once a year, but Trader Joe’s sweet and creamy Pumpkin Ice Cream is an annual must.
|What it is:||Cinnamon and nutmeg flavored ice cream.|
|Price:||$3.99 for 1 quart|
|Worth it:||Yes, it’s hard to stop eating!|
The fact that Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry strawberry ice cream, but it does carry pumpkin ice cream encapsulates the feeling of the store better than anything else I could write. Of all the products Trader Joe’s shoehorns pumpkin into it, brilliantly or otherwise, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream must have the broadest appeal and biggest fan base. Classic and unexpected at the same time, pumpkin ice cream just seems like a natural accompaniment to any harvest time festival you can name – from corn husking to Halloween.
I’ve written before that you never quite know what you’re going to get with a Trader Joe’s pumpkin-infused product. Sometime it will be absolutely bursting at the seams with pumpkin taste, while other times it will be pumpkin-y in name alone. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream falls squarely into this second camp. It might be rich, creamy and decadent soft serve – but is it pumpkin flavored? Not really. Even in spite of the inclusion of “pumpkin” as one of the ingredients listed ingredient (as one part of the “pumpkin base”), there isn’t much pumpkin flavor to be found. Savor it on your tongue, let it melt there, and you’ll detect maybe a hint of pumpkin-ness around the edges.
More correctly, Trader Joe’s should call this Pumpkin Pie Spice Ice Cream, which is much more what it tastes like – like a very creamy vanilla ice cream infused with cinnamon and nutmeg, tempered with a hint of cloves and ginger. It’s a broad, warm, mouth-filling taste – the soft, mellow flavor of the cream taking all of the bite out of the spices but keeping their warm, harmonious flavor.
Trader Joe’s compares this ice cream to pumpkin pie filling on the side of the carton, and that’s not really true at all. There’s nothing like the rich taste of pumpkin in this confection – but that’s not to be held against it. I, for one, would love to have a slice of warm pumpkin pie with a scoop of this ice cream decadently melting across the top.
Long story short – there isn’t much pumpkin to this pumpkin ice cream, but that’s not the end of the world. Think of this as “cinnamon and nutmeg” ice cream instead, and you won’t be disappointed.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, sweet and tasty.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, I’ll get some more next year.
Final Synopsis: A soft, creamy, cinnamon and nutmeg ice cream.
I’d long suspected that Trader Joe’s had lost their marbles, but I didn’t realize they’d actually gone insane. How can I tell? Because Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds is the sort of mad creation that only the incomprehensible visions of true insanity can show.
We know that TJ’s is willing to put pumpkin in every last thing they can get their hands on, but putting extra pumpkin in pumpkin itself? That’s as far down the rabbit hole as you can go. There’s so much pumpkin here that it’s liable to collapse into some sort of pumpkin-induced singularity – sucking the entire world into one infinitely dense, rapidly rotating pumpkin. Adding pumpkin spices to pumpkin seeds is the food equivalent of clutching your head while rocking back and forth and whispering “pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin” to yourself ceaselessly in the corner of a dark room.
That said, these things are actually pretty good.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are, like peanut brittle, one of those snacks that are only ever trotted out because they’re in season. I’m sure there are people out there who might eat more than a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds out of curiosity/politeness, but I’ve never met them. Generally, roasted pumpkin seeds are served up with some sort of savory spice on them – paprika, cumin, oregano, etc. Less often you’ll find them mixed with cinnamon and sugar, or some other sweet version. Trader Joe’s one ups all these recipes with their excellent preparation.
For starters, they skip the whole pumpkin seed and go right for the meat of the thing – in this case the pepita, or hulled pumpkin seed. This means you aren’t dealing with any of the semi-edible, obstinate pumpkin seed shells, just the crunchy, nutty seed itself.
The second brilliant step, is that TJ’s treats the pepitas like you would a honey-roasted peanut. They aren’t screwing around here with the seasoning – each little seedling is blasted front-to-back and top-to-bottom with an even dusting of sugar and spice. This gives them a sweet, satisfying, roughness that balances fully against mealier, dry nuttiness of the pumpkin seed itself. Of course, it’s not just any spices we’re talking about here – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds are coated with a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and, of course, plenty of sugar. While the sugar content will make you think of honey roasted peanuts, the other spices do a good job of approximating the flavorful complexity of a traditional pumpkin pie.
The result is something you won’t find anywhere else on the market. There’s been a huge uptick in exotically spiced nuts in recent years – from chili-spiced peanuts to honey-mustard almonds – but pumpkin pie spiced nuts haven’t been done yet. The result is an addicting and enjoyable snack – albeit one that might perform better on a different nut. The pumpkin seeds, although well prepared, are still waffer-y and dry, with a tendency to “pulp up” in your mouth in a way that real nuts don’t.
While I’d certainly be happy if someone wanted to come out with a pumpkin pie spiced peanut, I won’t turn up my nose at these pumpkin seeds. ‘Tis the harvest season, after all – if there’s ever a time for pumpkin seed it’s now. Setting out a bowl of these at your next autumnal gathering will fit the bill just right.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, they’re tasty and snackable.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, I’d substitute these for honey-roasted peanuts.
Final Synopsis: Sweet, roasted pumpkin seeds done right.
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.
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.