Monday, June 29, 2015

Starbucks UK, Summer Frappuccinos - Caramel Coffee Jelly Frappuccino & Lemon Vanilla Creme Frappuccino

I was happy to have caught on Facebook that Starbucks & Uniqlo had teamed up for a launch party for their new summer drinks last Thursday. It was a fun event, open to the public with a DJ, some baristas handing out samples, and Uniqlo goodie bags! It was a good time - I hope the turn out was good enough to warrant more of these sorts of collaborative launch events in the UK.

I tried both of the new flavors - one of which is incredibly exciting for here in the UK: Coffee Jelly! Long a popular seasonal flavor in certain Asian countries (coffee jelly is a popular dessert in Japan, for instance) it's a flavor I never really imagined would come out here. I mean, this is a country that's still not 100 percent convinced about s'mores. However, the popularity of bubble tea in London and elsewhere in the UK at the moment might have been a signal to Starbucks that the time was right. Still, interesting & exciting - good for them for taking a risk, considering how I usually berate the UK branches of chains & food distributors for being too risk averse.

The Caramel Coffee Jelly was definitely my favorite, not too sweet as the coffee jelly has slight bitterness which balances the caramel-base of the frapp quite nicely. Of course, since it's also a coffee based frappuccino you get some of the coffee's bitterness coming through, as well. Don't get me wrong, the caramel does keep it on the sweeter side of the spectrum. At the event they were very generous with the jelly serving, but given my rather unpleasant experience with the Fan Favorite flavors, I'd say your mileage may vary at actual branches.

 Unless my suspicions were correct & that the Fan Favorites here in the UK were kind of a "oh crap, these are a big success in America! can we do it here? quick, send out a couple recipes to shops & tell 'em to do those chalk drawings of these four flavors!". See, they never seemed to be getting too promoted - like, they didn't have corporate-made signs, all of the signage for the fan flavors seemed to be done in-shop. I would say it's fair to reason that if these flavors receive more of a traditional marketing push that the recipes will stay uniform throughout - and you'll end up with great globs of coffee jelly.

The Lemon Vanilla Creme, while delicious, was insanely sweet. It's a creme base frappe with lemon & vanilla syrups. Lemon is one of those flavors that really needs a lot of sugar to stop it being unpalatablely sour. As much as I enjoy this kind of sweet & sour lemon flavor, it really only works in a quick-hit format, or when coupled with something slightly more base or even bitter. For instance, a lemon drizzle cake with tea works because you take a big glug of tea in-between bites. This drink was kinda just a liquid lemon drizzle cake - sounds delicious, right? Well, like I said, it was, but I can't imagine it would stay tasty in 12oz format. Eventually you'd reach maximum sugar, with no end in sight. Like a giant slice of lemon drizzle cake or lemon tart, with nothing to drink on the side.

 It's a shame, but I think with a bit of tweaking to make it more vanilla with a hint of lemon, this would go down a lot more smoothly. It's also kind of a shame that it's not the vanilla bean powder frapp base, which is a bit less sweet than one based around vanilla syrup. Is Starbucks USA even still using that vanilla bean powder? I used to get that frappucinno often!

Over all both of these were quite interesting choices for the UK, and I'm looking forward to a big heaping Coffee Jelly frapp as the weather heats up. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

OyatsuBox June Unboxing

New unboxing video! This OyatsuBox is even better than last month's. Take a look and feel free to subscribe to me on Youtube.

As I mentioned in the video, I plan to do a giveaway once my prize from OyatsuBox arrives. Keep your eyes peeled here, Twitter, and Facebook - I'll be making a big stink of it everywhere!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Starbucks UK Fan Favourite Flavor Frappuccinos - Cinnamon Swirl & Summer Pie (Part 2)

Readers, I've had a crappy job. I worked at Walmart for 2 years, America's most soul-destroying chain of slophouses. I smiled all day, because that was part of the job. If I was a jag, I was out the door. Doesn't matter if it was a guy trying to turn his counterfeit cash over to me to change out for a Reese's Cup, a dentist handing me a small bible as a "tip", or the guy who said I should get out in the sun because I was too pale - I had to smile. I didn't have to be nice, but I had to play it. In American service culture, this face is important. It makes or breaks a franchisee, and it's the difference between the Target across from your house, and the Target about 15 minutes away. You'll chose the one where people have the right idea about the face. I'm not too bothered about service here, I get that Europeans tend to see American service as disingenuous (it is, but it feels good man) so it's usually a bit less smiley & less conversational. Fine by me for the most part.

See, I understand service is different everywhere you go, but man oh man - watch out at London Starbucks if you're ordering these new Fan Favorite drinks, because it is stink eye central. I've ordered them twice now, and both times it was like I was asking them for a Googoo Cluster Frappuccino & whatever cash they got. A 'face' best described as scared and angry. I go to Starbucks plenty and order standard drinks with no issues, but for whatever reason these are frightening and confusing to Starbucks employees in London. Should've guessed by how they've hidden the signage about them from view. So, I have no idea if these are being made properly or what - again mine was very thin and separated into a couple layers, but that might've been a result of the gorilla-slam it took against the counter as the girl barked CINNAMON FRAP at me.

Jokes on her, I loved it anyway.

The Cinnamon Swirl Frappuccino has cinnamon syrup, coffee, white mocha sauce, and even vanilla - so this is one syrupy affair. Apparently it's meant to come topped with a cinnamon sprinkle, but I wanted to get out of that Starbucks alive so I didn't mention it. Given all those syrups, I was worried it might be a bit too sweet - the cookie dough one did actually border on it. However, the cinnamon & coffee work nicely to add a bit of spice & a bit of bitterness to it. Don't get me wrong, it's still far more a dessert than a coffee drink, but if you like the sweetness of a standard Frappaccino it isn't much sweeter than that.

The taste really does do a good job of approximating a cinnamon bun - with the white chocolate mocha & vanilla combining into something far greater than the sum of their parts: Cinnabon style icing. The cinnamon is sweet & just a touch spicy, and is really the dominant flavor.

This one is actually my favorite so far, and the one I can actually see drinking again sometime. While the Cupcake was nice and the Cookie Dough was okay, both of them are the sorts of drinks that never really make sense after you've tried them the first time. I already had a sweet milkshake of this flavor - I don't really need to try it again. The Cinnamon Swirl however is very well blended & since it actually has some coffee in it, tastes like a bit more than just a milkshake.

I look forward to trying Summer Pie. I'll amend this review to also include it, and hopefully an update on a better experience in Starbucks when ordering these, haha.

I kid the Starbucks employees, I wouldn't want anyone to lose their job over disappointing an American in the fast food service realm - I mean, it's really easy to do. I'm sure that they just hate making these because they're new recipes with lots of syrup & bits and such.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pierre Marcolini - Macaron Concession, Selfridges

Readers of the blog are probably aware of my London macaron hunt; I've already reviewed Laduree & Pierre Herme. That leaves only a few left to try including William Curley, Paul, Artisan du Chocolat's ganache macarons, and today Pierre Marcolini.

Pierre Marcolini as a brand seems to focus in quite a bit on chocolates - as you'll see later on in this review, I can see why. They've recently opened a dedicated cafe for London in Marylebone, whereas before the were sold only in the Selfridges Food Hall. Not only are they selling macarons & chocolates, but the Marylebone cafe also sells eclairs baked on the premises. Glad to see a bit more of the patisserie side of things popping up, as I had bemoaned the Pierre Herme cafe for a lack of cakes & pastries. Good on Pierre Marcolini for giving it a try. Hopefully if the eclairs sell well they'll go on and start serving Religieuse, Saint Honore, et cetera. I'll try my best to encourage this, haha.

So, where are we at then? Macarons! The variety is a bit more adventurous than Laduree, and a little less 'mature' than Pierre Herme. For instance, there is a Speculoos macaron & quite a few chocolate varieties.

Our selections included:
Pierre Marcolini, Framboise, Pistachio, Palet Or Fondant, The Citrus, and Passionfruit.

Pretty sure I've got the order right. I'll cut right to the chase: the BEST macarons from Pierre Marcolini are the chocolate ones. It makes sense, as the focus does seem to be on chocolate, at least in the international market. They are also amazing. Properly bitter dark ganache holds it's own against sweet, buttery caramel notes in the Palet Or Fondant. Instead of blending into one sweetened dark chocolate, as I suspected might happen, two distinct tastes were produced, with a bitter beginning and a sweet end. The equivalent, I suppose, of a filled caramel dark chocolate. Really lovely stuff!

The macaron shells are slightly chewier than Pierre Herme, but less chewy than Laduree - putting them in the middle in terms of chew. The fillings were particularly soft as well - the chocolate ones were similar to ganache in terms of thickness & unctuousness.

To be fully honest, I can hardly remember the taste of the flavors that contained no chocolate - but the ones with chocolate? Unforgettable.

I recall the Framboise was an amazing zingy, perfectly balanced chocolate and raspberry combo. Not too sweet milk chocolate base with a natural raspberry flavor - minus the seeds, add a bit of zest.

The Pierre Marcolini was deserving of what I presume is it's signature status - semi-sweet Grand Cru chocolate with a hint of vanilla to sweeten & deepen the flavors. It reminded me of a homemade chocolate pudding, baked in the oven with vanilla.

The The Citrus is a citrus tea, kind of refreshing bergamot with a squeeze of lemon. Similar to an Earl Gray, this one was my favorite of the non-chocolate flavors.

The Passionfruit was suitably sharp & strong, but it didn't leave a hugely lasting impression. I think that has more to do with the greatness of the chocolate flavors, than any failing on the end of this one.

The Pistachio suffered a similar fate - nutty, warm & sweet, but it didn't stick out any particular way.

I highly recommend trying out the chocolate varieties, and the flavor of the month at the moment sounds nice -Yuzu. I'd like to check out the shop in Marylebone and try an eclair, as well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Starbucks UK Fan Flavour Frappuccinos - Cookie Dough & Cupcake (Part 1)

When I first read about Starbuck's USA releasing the 6 new 'fan-inspired' flavors, I had a conniption. I was both seen and heard raving about how the UK never gets anything fun, and I cursed the good name of the yogurt Frappuccinos. I was like, "Listen. English people like sweets too. It's the only country where I've seen a grown man tuck into a bag of Sour Patch Kids in public, so let them indulge, because they most certainly could understand a cake-flavored drink." The popularity of Frijj should lay testament to that.

Anyway, my raving and sputtering to Mr Starbucks' ears, because we've got four very cool flavours in our midst now. Thank me later.

The most exciting to me? Cookie Dough. See, now if I were in America I'd actually be incredibly annoyed that we didn't get that one - I'd be like, "English people get all the best flavors!" Cookie Dough is comprised of hazelnut syrup &white chocolate mocha sauce, blended with chocolate chips and topped with whipped creme and (clearly not compulsory for all Starbucks) chocolate chips.

Second most exciting (and luckily, most exciting for my husband/tasting partner) is Cupcake. It's a classic move, and the flavor I can see most easily translating into creme blended format. This one is a Vanilla Bean creme base (which surprisingly was not available in the UK before this launch) with almond syrup, topped with whipped creme. Sprinkles? No, but good idea - please note for the future, Starbucks. Use some of the left-overs from those mallow skewers.

Lets start with the Cookie Dough. I was vaguely disappointed that mine didn't have the chocolate chip topping, but I'm not about the ask the people at Starbucks to give me more chocolate chips when I'm already ordering the most whimsical drink on their menu. I mean, I'd prefer I didn't have to ask, you know? It is part of the recipe - then again, eh. Perhaps that is a sign, however, that they're not really paying much attention to what they're supposed to be doing.

The drink was very thin for a Frappaccino, which is my usual experience in London Starbucks. When you get them in America they're always quite thick and 'shake like'. Probably in America a thickening agent is used that is banned in the EU, or something else weird like that. It's not a negative, I actually kind of prefer the more slurpable English style ones. Just a note that this one seemed even thinner than usual though, and I think that has to do with the multiple syrups in play here.

It tasted nice, it reminded me of those Cookie Dough flavored confections that are quite popular in movie theatres, but it was missing the buttery & salty notes of real cookie dough. You can really make out the hazelnut syrup, which is a bit of a shame if you ask me, because cookie dough isn't nutty. I do see what they're going for though, because the white mocha blends quite well and when you put them together it does have some of the richness of cookie dough. Frankly, some of the issues with the taste may come from the poor blending - mine looks like two distinct layers of drink. I can appreciate that since there are multiple syrups it's a more difficult drink to perfect...

The chips were also bit too finely blended to really even count for anything, which was a disappointment. The Java Chip Frappuccino manages to maintain a lot of chip integrity, with big ol' chunks coming down the straw on every two or three sips. This one was just finely sieved chocolate shavings, it seemed like. I'd suggest they go about it more like they do the Java Chip, and maybe even just use the java chips themselves because the slight bitterness of that chocolate is even more reminiscent of classic chocolate chip cookie dough made with semi-sweet morsels.

All in all, not bad & totally worth a try if you're in the mood for something sweet & a bit nutty, but a slight dropped ball that may have just as much to do with my location as it does anything else.

The Cupcake flavor was actually a big improvement. It tasted just like a vanilla cake made with...almond flour. Why almond flour? Well, because they use almond syrup in addition to the Vanilla Bean base. The Vanilla Bean base does really add to this one, making it warmly sweet & fragrant (like vanilla extract), and does a nice job of approximating the taste of 'baking'. I think since there is only one syrup used in this recipe, there is a lot less chance of error. It was also thicker, more like a standard Frappuccino. I used to order plain Vanilla Bean fraps in America, and it was just like a nuttier version of that. 

I think partly this one works better is because cupcakes are a less nuanced flavor than cookie dough, as well. It's just a matter of tasting sweet, vanilla-y, and 'baked'. This one really does pull it off. It comes with a much higher recommendation than the Cookie Dough.

Very interesting to note, I thought, that the Cupcake flavor in the UK is flavored with almond syrup, whereas the American Cupcake flavor is done with hazelnut syrup. Both syrups are available in the UK, but in America the almond syrup has been discontinued for a long time. Wonder which is better?

Check back soon for Part 2, where I'll review Cinnamon Swirl & Summer Pie.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bakeable Cheesecake KitKat

There is a new(ish) bakeable KitKat in town! I've previously reviewed the Pumpkin Pudding flavor, and the original Baked Pudding flavor.

A few months ago they released this new version, which is a baked cheesecake flavor. I much prefer baked ('New York style') cheesecakes to the mousse-y style ones, but in Japan it's way more common to find a light, whipped cheesecake.

They're also usually 'raw', which just means they haven't been baked. So if you're in Japan and you see something called a 'raw cheese pie', don't worry - it's just a light cheesecake - and they're pretty good! In Japan, cheesecakes also tend to have a bit 'cheesier' of a taste, which I do enjoy. So, I was expecting an interesting little KitKat here.

When I opened the bag, it smelled just like lemons. To be fair, cheesecakes across the world do tend to be scented with lemon, which goes very well with the creamy, tangy cheese that makes up the base of a cheesecake. It was a lemon cream smell rather than a tangy lemon candy, and it was definitely not a super gross lemon floor cleaner smell.

When eaten 'raw' style, they're sweet, creamy lemon with a subtle tang. They're actually lovely KitKats without the cooking gimmick, and I can see a flavor like this playing well as a Chunky. The lemon balances out the sweetness, and instead of being an incredibly sugary white chocolate, it's a bit more a milky confection. Don't get me wrong, it is sweet - but when a flavor like this could be sickly, there is enough tang & fattiness to offset that.

Now, I had a lot more trouble cooking these than I did before. Let me give you all a piece of advice - don't grill them. I don't know what possessed me to try it, but somehow I got it in my head that was I had done it. If you look at my review for the Baked Pudding version, you'll see my original instructions & the way I did them the first time. They turned out much better then.

As you can see, when grilled they crust up on the top & just melt away at the bottom. I think you really need to do these at a pretty high but consistent heat - so for me, my fan assisted oven on around 200 (being watched closely for burns) is what will probably work best.

The crispy top layer had very little lemon taste, just a hint, making it actually a very accurate rendition of an average cheesecake's level of lemon. It really very tasty, tangy & sweet with some sort of creamy edge...basically, it's a very good approximation of cheesecake flavor. The only thing that stops it from being totally cheesecake though is, funny enough, it's very gimmick. Cheesecake doesn't have a crispy top, baked or not. It's usually very smooth! However, some of that comes down to me over-grilling my KitKats.

When it comes to bakeable KitKats, I think the ones that translated best were the simple custard pudding version, but these are a close second.

You can get these in the UK at TofuCute - and that's about it! Since many Japanese snack sites take down their chocolates for the summer months, we're just outta luck. Even though I feel like any chocolates shipped to us here in Fog City, Raintown, UK would be fine, I guess they have to account for people living in Sunnyvale, California (an actual place). Anyway, be thankful UK & European readers - we're about the only ones who can get our hands on these right now!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fruit Punch Oreos

Fruit Punch Oreos are super weird, and really show that the good folks down at Nabisco are willing to take risks. I like that in a snack. However, they taste like Flintstones Chewable Vitamins.

I don't like that in a snack unless it's at least giving me zinc while it's grossing me out. Fruit Punch Oreos ain't giving out anything but heartache.

My husband refused to even try these, and to drive his point home refused to bring them into his office for his co-workers. I decided not to share them either, as these Oreos would definitely be cause for alarm in my office - which is mostly comprised of continental Europeans who already raise their eyebrows at any American snack. This one ain't ready for the UN, let's put it that way.

First thing, I suppose we need to figure out what exactly 'Fruit Punch' flavor should be. I think of it as a tangy, sweet, 'red' flavor and all indications on the front of the box say that's also how these Oreos wish to be perceived. If you've ever had Hawaiian Punch or any maroon-to-pink spectrum Kool-Aid, you'll know exactly what I mean by red flavored.

They smell tangy & sticky, just like a sweet kid's juice. The cream is a lurid red color, and something that I'm sure is actually contraband in the EU. Though after all the money I've paid to customs through my years as an expatriate, I deserve some home-style E numbers.

The taste though - yeesh. I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn't expecting a tastebud-by-tastebud reproduction of a crunchy multivitamin. Maybe it's been too long since I had some Red 129 and I've grown to forget the taste, but this tasted surprisingly powder-y & had something a bit bitter behind the sweet that I'm sure was unintentional. The texture also seemed off - Oreos I've had in the past have a creamier & lighter consistency in the cream, whereas this was just like a thick, sticky paste. I could've easily rolled it up into a ball without it leaving much of a trace on my hands, and when I split the sandwich it easily clung to just the one side. Think fondant rather than frosting.

 I wonder if it comes from the addition of flavor & color - but not all flavored & colored Oreos behave like this. For instance, the Reeses' ones are a pure joy with a classically smooth & 'sticky' cream. However, the Watermelon type also had this weird texture.

Long story short, if you want weird American Oreos there are much better flavors to choose from:
Candy Corn
Banana Split
for instance.

I've got my eye on a few that have came out recently, including S'mores and Cotton Candy. Will they ever run out of flavors for Oreos? I'm waiting on 'Salty Sweet Cream', myself. Or if they want to make it a bit more pedestrian - salted caramel cream. What say you, Oreo board of directors?