Monday, October 5, 2015

Twirl & Dip Soft Serve in San Francisco

Ah, San Francisco. I had a lovely time there - thanks for asking, running commentary in my head! One of the places I was most excited to try was the Twirl & Dip truck, heralded as the best soft serve ice cream in America. I love soft serve ice cream, and while I've had some that was marginally better than others, I've never had any that was like, "This is far and away better than a McDonald's Vanilla Cone."

That is, until I tried Twirl & Dip! We had a nice little stroll through Golden Gate Park, as evidenced by these photos of my greatest foe, the outdoors:

. It's so...bright. In order to cajole me outside, I was informed that the Twirl & Dip truck was situated in Golden Gate Park, or rather, the very near outskirts of it. There was a massive line when we arrived on Labor Day weekend at about 4 pm, which is to be expected. It moved relatively quickly though, I mean - it is ice cream, so you really won't be waiting long.

I ordered a vanilla cone with dark chocolate TCHO dip, with an olive oil & sea salt sprinkle. Not only did it sound crazy delicious & right up my salty-sweet alley, it's also the most highly recommended item on the menu. Well, I didn't plump for the specially crafted sugar cone, so I didn't get the most highly recommended version. I did my own slightly cheaper variation using a cake cone. That being said, the sugar cones sure looked cool. They were sort of embossed with attractive retro patterning. As you can see the cake cone is plenty photogenic, with the big soft peak of ice cream coated in dark chocolate really taking center stage anyway.

So, onto the taste. Most soft serves are vanilla in name only, tasting mostly just sweet & milky. The better quality ones out there will taste the slightest bit vanilla, but never reaching the heights of say, a quality true vanilla ice cream.

I'm pleased to say that this vanilla soft serve tastes as strongly of vanilla as a high quality, natural vanilla bean ice cream. It's warm and sweet with rounded edges, just like the best vanillas. The chocolate dip is where this really shines, though. As a long time player in the salty-sweet game, I can tell you that this is a special mix. Dark chocolate which isn't too bitter, married to delicious flecks of mild sea salt - the olive oil just lends a bit of savory oomph & warmth to the proceedings. If you've ever tried a brownie made with olive oil, it's something a bit like that.

The price can quickly rack up on these cones, however. I believe mine was about $5.50, with the base soft serve & cone being $4.50 and an additional $1.50 for the dip. If you spring for the fancier cone, you're looking at a $7 soft serve. So, yeah - judge for yourself whether or not you think a real A+ soft serve experience is worth nearly $10, but I certainly felt that the $5 ball park was acceptable for such a perfect dipped cone. I'd convince someone else you're with to get that fancier homemade sugar cone, and just take a photo & a quick nibble before you dig into your delicious and cheaper option.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Candied Yam Cupcake, Hummingbird Bakery

I'm no stranger to Hummingbird Bakery's charms - particularly around this time of the season when they regularly bring out pumpkin flavored bits. I've reviewed the Pumpkin Whoopie Pie and also a 'head to head' battle of the butter & sugar titans in the form of a Jam Doughnut Cupcake & a Strawberry Milkshake Cupcake.

So, while this year they've neglected poor, pitiful pumpkin quite a bit (who knows, maybe they're saving it for November?) they have, in fact, released 2 very cool & as far as I know totally new cupcake flavors. First - Snickers. Which I'm sure is absolutely fine, but I also feel like I could write that review without ever tasting it. Chocolate frosting, perhaps with a 'nutty' component (think Nutella), filled with caramel, and chocolate cake. On top, as you may suspect, half a fun-size Snickers. If someone brought me one just on a lark, I would eat it before they could even turn around and walk away, sure - but when it comes to buying it myself for the blog...well, I went with the more exciting option.

Candied Yam Cupcake. Huh. That's something I can't really presume anything about. While many American families enjoy the gooey sweet potato/marshmallow/"candied yam" dish on their Thanksgiving table, mine did not partake. Not sure what I'm on about? Take a look at this recipe. Basically, it's cooked sweet potatoes topped with a brown sugar & cinnamon mix, with brulee'd marshmallows on top. So how do you make that a cupcake? Turns out the answer is with ease.

It's a natural, really. The cupcake base is cinnamon & nutmeg like a classic spice-based cake with more vegetal sweetness like you find in a good carrot cake. That's because it's a 'sweet potato' based cake. Look ma, it's healthy! Then the frosting really tops everything off, chuckle chuckle. It's like whipped marshmallow creme with a bit of toastiness on the top. It's also the perfect amount to just be an excellent compliment to the slightly spiced cake. Since it's marshmallow based, it's extremely sweet - if they had stacked it as high as say, the Red Velvet Cupcake pictured below - purchased only for comparison's sake, of course - it would've been over the top. 

The texture was excellent too, with a dense & moist cake (you can expect a quality level sponge from Hummingbird in my experience) and the marshmallow frosting was very light and whipped - as it should be with something that sweet.

Would I recommend it to the average consumer over the classic Red Velvet or even a Black Bottom? Perhaps not, but I would suggest it to anyone looking for something a bit different than the usual - or anyone who just loves marshmallow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Creamy Half-Dipped Shortbreads

Europeans, here's something that you're missing out on: Trader Joe's. It's sort of like a cheap & more experimental Marks & Spencer, and it's brought to you by the same people who run Aldi. It's a beloved chain in America because their products are not as expensive as Whole Foods, posited as equally healthy, and they sell lots of things that you don't traditionally see on American grocery shelves.

Things like the following mouthful: Kona Coffee Creamy Half-Dipped Shortbread Cookies.

I really appreciate the sort of retro Hawaiian style box, it's cool - Kona coffee is of course Hawaiian in origin so it makes sense thematically. It's also just eye catching & pleasant.

The cookies themselves are in a tray, wrapped in a bit of plastic, so they stay fresher & are less apt to get stale than say, a sleeve of Digestives or a box of Oreos. I think this also helps make sure that the creamy dip doesn't get too hot or cold - keeps it insulated. Perhaps because of this, the cookies made the journey across the Atlantic with me in tip-top condition.

As you can see they are indeed half dipped in "creamy" (namedrop), which I originally thought would be similar to white chocolate in flavor & texture - you'll see how I was wrong later on. If you look closely you may be able to also spot some fine coffee bean bits, these blended very well into the sandy texture of the shortbread cookie, Some people may be turned off by the texture - they remind me of Pecan Sandies, or a slightly crumblier and less densely 'packed' Walkers shortbread.

The flavor is buttery, not too sweet, and with a subtle twinge of coffee. It's not like brewed coffee, it's more like espresso beans - not too strong, just subtly bitter & earthy.

The creamy side is very sweet with a bit of artificiality coming through in the texture - very slippy & a bit greasy. It's best dipped in some coffee, as it transfers some sweetness into the drink & absorbs some further coffee flavor. We also tried them dipped in milk - it was good too! Not sure I'd recommend them for tea, but that's just because of my natural aversion to mixing coffee & tea. It just sounds...wrong.

If you happen to find yourself in Trader Joe's, and your looking for a new kinda cookie experience, particularly if you want an accompaniment to your coffee, you'd do well to give these a try!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Reese's Spread Snacksters

Remember how disappointed you were, American former children, when you tried Reese's peanut butter in the tub for the first time - and it wasn't like Reese's cups? How about you, European teenagers & adults, when you found that imported jar on a Tesco end cap and let out an excited shout? If only I could've been there to warn's just Skippy.

Well, there's a whole new generation of Reese's spreads. They're called, aptly, Reese's Spreads. I mean, technically they're Hershey's Spreads with a subheading under the banner of Reese's. There is only one flavor in this line, the chocolate & peanut butter version. That's the one I've tried, I've course!

I found it in 'Snackster' format, which is a little pot of the spread plus a little something to dip in there. This particular Snackster came with graham cracker sticks. Not necessarily my first choice with this spread (where's the pretzel sticks, Reese's? get with it) but hey, it beats having to invest in an entire jar of the stuff and trying to come up with your own dip-ins.

To be honest, the graham cracker sticks were a bit cinnamon-y which didn't go so well with the peanut butter and chocolate. The spread by itself was actually a fair bit tastier - these could've done with a more 'breadstick' or Pocky type stick rather than something with it's own unique flavor profile. Then again, I've never been a huge fan of cinnamon with peanut butter after an unfortunate attempt at doctoring up homemade peanut butter cookies with just heapin' helpin's of cinnamon. It's just a bit too rich.

Now, onto the spread itself - it is indeed like liquefied, smoothed out Reese's cups.

I think what makes it so Reese's compared to other chocolate peanut spreads is the hit of salt and the predominance of the chocolate. Others I've had in this style (SunPat Choconut, for instance) are too sweet and the balance leans heavy on the peanut.

While that grain that really set's Reese's Cup peanut butter apart from the off-the-spoon stuff isn't really replicated, but you don't miss it half as much when there is also a big milk chocolate component and a real hit of that salty sweet Reese's flavor. I'll put it to you this way -if I had a jar of this in the house, no white carb would go unslathered. It's very nice stuff indeed, and while it sounds like it may be really rich, it managed to stay lighter in feel than say, Nutella.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Japanese Candy Giveaway!

You guys may have already guessed this, but I have way too much candy.

I need to clear some space for...incoming new candy.

Ergo, two, count 'em, two European giveaways are happening this September.

Both hearty boxes of Japanese candy! Want to know what's inside? I've made two, count 'em, two videos to show you just that. I consider them boxing videos, as opposed to your classic unboxing. Believe me though, you'll want these candies - so enter now while the videos buffer, right?

Click HERE to enter to win one of 2 boxes of Japanese candy!

Sorry to say that this giveaway is open for Europe only. Any entries from outside of Europe will have to be discounted...Again, sorry! Now onto the contents:

It ends Saturday the 26th at midnight, and I'll choose two winners on Sunday. One will win the big box, and other shall win the small. Huzzah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mr Holmes Bakehouse, San Francisco - Cruffins, Doughnuts, and Choux Bombs

So we are in San Francisco for some business, and I had been doing tons of research on where to go to enjoy some great Californian grub. San Francisco is a real food-enjoyer destination, so there were tons of places being recommended. We're only here for a couple days, so there were only so many places we could manage. One I was certainly not going to miss was Mr Holmes Bakehouse.

I'm still a sucker for the world of hybrid pastries (Cocomaya & DumDum Donuts reviewed in the past) and this is San Francisco's popular cruffin spot. What's a cruffin? Well, break it down - it's a croissant and a muffin. You can actually get cruffins in London at Foxcroft & Ginger, although my guess is that they're going to be much less creamy & indulgent. I mean...America.

At Mr Holmes Bakehouse the flavor changes daily, and when we visited the flavor was Macadamia Nut & White Chocolate. In the past they've also had Peanut Butter & Jelly, Matcha, and perhaps best of all - Dark Chocolate Cherry. These are just the flavors that intrigued me most, but on their Facebook they update weekly with the schedule of flavors so you can best time your visit.

And oh yes, you'll want to time your visit indeed. The cruffins come out at 9:00 AM, and the line when we arrived at around 8:20 was already...extensive. The area that Mr Holmes is in is not the nicest - it's a short walk from the hotel area of Union Square but the atmosphere gets a bit unpleasant - you'll be nearing the Tenderloin which is an area of San Francisco that is considered really nasty. Honestly though, it's not that bad (still quite near the 'nicer' areas) and it's in the morning - we didn't feel uncomfortable, just don't expect a lot of interesting things to catch your eye while you wait in line for a cruffin. You'll certainly not be alone.

Crowd control was quite good, managing a good amount of people filtering into the shop without ever overwhelming the small space, and once the line started moving the first dozen or so people in front of us were out in about 10 minutes. Good knowledge to take with you - I heard that they often sell out of the cruffins by 10 AM. It seemed that being about 25 - 35 deep in the line was fine, but any further back than that and you may risk no cruffin. Worth knowing also that there didn't seem to be a spoken limit for customer purchases except cruffins, which were 2 each. The cruffins were also about $5 and the rest of the bits we got were slightly less, which I think is right reasonable. To be fair, I'm coming from London where the slightest hint of trendiness will increase some food's price three fold. Rest assured something this zany would run you £5 in London.

The shop was clean, small, and modern - it was very photogenic, as San Francisco seems to really lay the carpet out for Instagram types.

The items we bought were:

White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Cruffin
This was lovely! I wasn't sure what the flavor was when I first had bit into it, and I had assumed it was white chocolate & coconut. Macadamia nut is often paired with coconut as they share a rounded, nutty flavor - so I wasn't too off. It's covered in cinnamon sugar which pairs well with this particular flavor, but I did think to myself that there were in fact many flavors where it would've been an unwelcome distraction from the filling. The cream was custard style, thick and unctuous - no whipped lightness here! It was topped with a smattering of white chocolate covered crispies. It was about the length of my hand and nearly as thick as my palm, so quite big. Good for sharing, but uh...could be eaten by one highly determined individual.

Maple Cream Doughnut
This was sort of just thrown on at the last minute, because I love maple flavored things. Now, disappointingly, the maple wasn't that strong - that is usually a sign that the maple used was real as opposed to the much stronger flavored artificial stuff, but I was anticipating something a bit more zow & pep. That being said, this was a nice doughnut in general. The cream was slightly whippier than what was in the cruffin, and was deeply filled. This one was coated with just sugar, and the doughnut itself had a lot of buttery flavor & softness underneath the crisp exterior. It was a good one, just not the best flavor. Very high quality pastry nonetheless, but next time I'd try a filling with perhaps a bit more tang to it. They do a blood orange flavor that sounds stupendous!

Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb
This one was a must get, as Ferrero Rochers are one of my top general, always available, universally accessible chocolates. Hazelnut & chocolate is always a big ol' double tick. The pastry is of course choux, so a bit crispy on the outside with a delicately chewy inner bit, with a buttery and not-too-sweet flavor. Atop the pastry is a pleasantly soft bit of hazelnut & chocolate nougat, which does indeed bring to mind a Ferrero Rocher. The inner cream is hazelnut flavored, and very sweet, with a touch of grain. It's sort of the texture of frosting or soft nougat, but a bit less thick.

The hazelnut is definitely the dominating flavor in this one, so if you're looking for a chocolate hit you may want to look elsewhere. The lack of chocolate does make the whole thing slightly less Rocher-like, but it's still super delicious - sweet & nutty.

If I lived in San Francisco, I'd definitely make a point of going to Mr Holmes when they had an intriguing flavor on! It's also worth mentioning that they did many other sorts of pastries, including some savory ones (a croissant with the all components of sushi inside it, for instance) which may be easier to get a hold of throughout the day. Also, their coffee was amazing - Sightglass coffee, just the filter, and it was deliciously acidic, fruity, and strong.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cadbury Marvelous Creations, Rocky Mallow Road

I've tried a few of these Marvelous Creations, but the only one I've reviewed was from Australia, the Jelly Popping Candy & Beanies bar.

So, here's a second review - my first for the UK set. I'm a little bit disappointed that the Cola & Pretzel chocolate has been phased out, but perhaps Rocky Mallow Road can fill the void? I mean, I do quite like rocky road.

Alas, this is way less rocky road and way more artificial strawberry chocolates. The jellies are extremely strongly flavored, so every bite is just crunchy & strawberry-tasting, or chewy & strawberry-tasting, depending on the other mix-in with that particular bite.

It tasted to me a lot like the Dairy Milk Strawberries & Cream, which I didn't like due to it's incredible sweetness & one-note sugarfruit taste. It's almost the exact same flavor profile, just with added chewy chunks of further sugar (mallows) and bits of shortcake. This would've been much nicer had the strawberry jellies been perhaps a different flavor entirely. Raisins, dried currants, sour berry, almost anything besides super sweet strawberry flavor.

Bit of a shame, as I would've thought this was an easy win for the Marvelous Creations range, but for my druthers it's just overly sweet & not really much more than a strawberry chocolate flavored bar. Talk about meh!