Archive for December, 2011


“American-inspired” cookies. What are those Brits playing at?

“I hate it that the British assume American cookies are s***,” declared Ms Pie, as we cackled over the ridiculousness of these cookies from UK chain Marks & Spencer.

Maybe the Marks & Spencer food scientists have never been to an American grocery store. What American cookies have currants in them? Or sunflower and pumpkin seeds? It’s like they tried to cross-breed a chocolate chip cookie, oatmeal raisin cookie, and granola bar. WTF?

We’d recently had a ho-hum experience with some other Marks & Spencer cookies, so we were ready to be underwhelmed again. Rant aside on the cultural authenticity, these cookies are actually pretty good. Well, let me qualify that. First, I had to strongarm Ms. Pie into even trying them. She conceded the crispy cookie base wasn’t disgusting. Then she took another bite and literally spat it out, having hit a currant (they’re not for everyone–explaining why mince pies aren’t a global phenomenon).

As for Mr. X-sXe and me, we actually enjoyed these. They eat like a buttery oat cookie, with an errant seed or dried fruit here and there. Still, we worry for America’s culinary reputation abroad. What other foods are being billed as American-inspired? Tuna-sweetcorn pizza? Hamburger-flavored crisps? One shudders at the possibilities.


Emporio Rulli’s $53, 2.5 lb chocolate panettone

Emporio Rulli’s panettone makes Giada di Laurentiis foam at the mouth, so you figure it’s got to be good (Italian + trained pastry chef = knows delicious when she tastes it). I’ve never tried Rulli’s version because the shipping ($31) costs more than the actual panettone ($18.50). Also, I can get an awesome one from Trader Joe’s for $4.99—somehow I doubt the Rulli one tastes 10x better.
But but but—I’ve been really curious to try this chocolate version Rulli makes for Gilt Taste (a site that carries a lot of fancy foodstuffs you’d be happy to gift, but feel guilty buying for yourself). I’ve never seen a chocolate panettone in the stores. And maybe I’m just a sucker for good storytelling, but how can you not want to try it after reading this description? Anyway, the $53 price tag has always held me back from hitting the “buy” button. However, Gilt recently offered a 50% off voucher for everything on Gilt Taste. So I finally caved and ordered the 2.5 chocolate-butter behemoth on Cyber Monday—the 5-cent shipping special was the clincher.
If you haven’t tried panettone, you’ve probably at least seen it on grocery store shelves this time of year. It usually comes in a square box or foil/cellophane wrapping. From the images, it resembles a cousin of fruitbread. Don’t start hating yet, though. Panettone is closer to a buttery bread, like brioche, with small pieces of preserved fruit. I’m not a fruitbread eater (and personally don’t know any under the age of 50 who is), but I could eat light, fluffy panettone year-round. Preferred serving style: toasted with a bit of butter.
Anyway, the Rulli panettone came in the mail beautifully packaged (that’s why these things make good gifts—no additional wrapping needed). It almost made me sad to ruin the wonderful presentation by opening it.
The panettone is “iced” with almond paste, white sprinkles atop. Chocolate and orange peel bits stud the fluffy, bready innards.
Given the way I’d hyped this up in my head, it couldn’t nearly taste as good as I’d hoped. Its main failing is that it’s just not chocolate-y enough. That could easily be solved with bigger chocolate chips. Also, just because you bake something with a buttload of butter doesn’t guarantee moistness (vegetable oil does a much better job). Panettones are actually somewhat dry, as was this one. Orange-chocolate fans will like this, but again, I’d brainwashed myself into thinking that it’d be a much more sublime experience.
In sum: when I think about how many Trader Joe’s panettones I can get for the same price, I can’t justify getting Rulli’s again, even at half price.

Starbucks whoopie pies: low expectations, surpassed

Starbucks is currently selling these red velvet whoopie pies by the box. They come out to around $1 each for a box of 4 (or $1.50 each in the pastry case).

I’ve seen people complaining that some of their petite treats suck, so maybe getting an entire box wasn’t the smartest move. (Starbucks gift card = caution to the wind.)

Luckily, these aren’t bad, barring the angry red drizzle on top. Like the lame-ass whoopie pies you find in a lot of places, I was expecting a marshmallow fluff center. This one actually tastes like cream cheese. Plus the pie (or more accurately, cake) part is really moist. I guess the Starbucks food scientists know what they’re doing.

If I hadn’t seen this ingredient list, I would’ve enjoyed these a lot more. Propylene glycol? That’s one of those ingredients you see in everything from cleaning solutions to cosmetics. What’s it doing in my whoopie pie? Probably helping to keep it moist, shelf stable, etc. That isn’t the only dodgy ingredient. Oh well. Just eat it without flipping the box over, to maximize your enjoyment.


Sizing up mini treats from Marks & Spencer

Ms. Pie and I do agree on one thing: the cookies she brought back from UK chain Marks & Spencer are totally unremarkable.

This may sound like a 180-degree reversal of my previous position on British desserts. However, I’d like to clarify that the Anglo-treats I most covet are the refrigerated kind (chocolate mousses, trifles, sticky toffee puddings, and the like). Not the ones you find in the cookie aisle.

BTW, M&S is a UK department store chain as famous for its cotton undies as its range of ready-made sandwiches (although poorly conceived combinations like “cream cheese with strawberry and grapes” give me pause. I hope that flavor got phased out). Their groceries are pretty pricey, more so than your average Tesco, Safeway, or Sainsbury’s. So you’d think their cookies would be decent. You’d think.

Here’s what we tried:

Jaffa cakes: These are named for Jaffa oranges. They’re a spongecake with a layer of orange (or another fruity) jelly, coated in chocolate on one side. I used to eat these by the boxfuls in college. I guess my palate has evolved, because now there’s half a bag that’s been sitting in my pantry not getting any less stale.

“I refuse to eat them, because I do not believe that orange marmalade and chocolate belong together. In this case, two great tastes make me want to barf,” commented my pro-pie counterpart.

Er, if you’re still curious to try them, you might be able to find them at your local grocery store under the Le Petit Ecolier brand.

Oat biscuits: I’m guessing these are M&S’ version of McVitie’s Hobnobs, a fibrous oat-based cookie from the company that made Prince William’s groom’s cake. The texture would make you think were made by Metamucil if they were in American grocery stores. These were ok-tasting with a glass of soy milk. But they need more butter, lard, bacon grease—something to make them taste less healthy. Maybe M&S should take a cue from McVitie’s by offering a chocolate-coated version.

Wafer curls: Due to my lactose intolerance, I usually steer clear of milk chocolate. So I left this one entirely up to Ms. Pie: “I love flute cookies, where there’s a thin layer of chocolate within a buttery and flaky rolled cookie. It’s crunchy and slightly salty and then full of delicious chocolate—like a chocolate pie in cookie form. But then Marks & Spencer had to try to improve on perfection by dipping the whole thing in chocolate, thus smothering the delicate nature of the dessert. Don’t try to do over-the-top, Britain. Leave that to the Americans, who know how to engage in excess without killing flavor.”