Monday, January 23, 2017

Cake Delivery from Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar.  I've written about it before, in detail, including all the history of my discovering it long before the masses, meeting the chef at her book signings in San Francisco, etc.  If you are unfamiliar with the glory that is Momofuku Milk Bar, please start with that post, and then return here.

While I adore the corn cookies, cereal milk soft serve, and zomg, crack pie from Momofuku Milk Bar, it had been several years since I had the opportunity to have any of their treats again.  It was time to fix this.

Momofuku Milk Bar has expanded significantly at this point, with several locations in New York, one in DC, one in Toronto, and now, one in Las Vegas too (getting closer!).  But I hadn't been to any of those cities in years, until this past fall, when I finally returned to New York.  You can bet that I went to Momofuku Milk Bar every night I was there, and re-fell in love with the soft serve and cookies.  Stay tuned for those reviews!

A couple months after my New York visit, we had an event to celebrate at my office, and I of course nominated myself to get the treats.  After consulting with the guest of honor, I knew that I needed to find a good cake.  It was Friday afternoon, and the celebration was planned for Wed, but Monday was a national holiday.  I had a weekend, a holiday, and one work day only to pull this together.  I called several bakeries around San Francisco, but most told me that they couldn't do an order with only one business day notice.  Barely anywhere delivered.

A sane person probably would have just ordered a Safeway cake and moved on.  Or perhaps found a local place that wasn't too far away, and gone themselves to pick it up (which, I'm glad I didn't do, as it was pouring rain the day of the party!).  But I'm not really a sane person when it comes to desserts.  I decided to order a cake from Momofuku Milk Bar, from New York, via overnight mail.  Because I knew they offered that service, and, I still had yet to try one of their cakes.
Overnight Mail Cake!
Ordering cake (or other products) from Momofuku Milk Bar is extremely easy online.  You can order from their website, or through Gold Belly.  Delivery across the country is $45, which did give me pause, but, I don't think it would have been much cheaper to hire a TaskRabbit or other courier inside San Francisco to fetch and deliver a local option.  This was totally a reasonable move ... really.

The cake was successfully delivered on time, and suffered no harm in transit.  I'm glad I finally got to try a Momofuku cake, but, it didn't really impress.  If only they could deliver me some soft serve ...

Packaging

All orders are shipped via overnight mail.  I scheduled my delivery for Tuesday, to ensure it would be there for the Wednesday party.  Monday evening I got a shipping notice, and, Tuesday morning, it arrived.  I may or may not have rushed home from the office midday to check it out.
Well Labelled.
My box was well marked with bright labels indicating its perishability, which is good, as my front desk immediately put it in the fridge for me.  There was also a cute Milk sticker, which meant something to me, and probably few others.
Pink!
I was surprised to open the box and find a sea of pink.  Pink tissue paper surrounded the box inside the box, and several cards were laid on top.
Info Cards.
The postcards included info on how to store my cake and proper handling instructions.  I could keep it in the fridge for up to 7 days (taking it out an hour before serving), or the freezer for 30 days (taking it out 3-4 hours before).
Insulated Packaging.
Under all the pretty pink tissue was the real packaging.  Smaller items came in a freezer bag, and the big cake was in a large styrofoam box.
Freezer Box.
The cake came inside a styrofoam box, surrounded by bubble wrap, and three large ice packs.
Wrapped Up Cake.
The cake was then wrapped up tightly on all sides, with cardboard disks on top and bottom.
Acetate Wrap Sides.
Peeling off the saran-wrap style wrap, and the top cardboard, finally revealed my cake, still held together by acetate strips

The Cake

So, Momofuku Milk Bar cake.  I had 8 choices for cake, all of which were fairly unique.  I would have gladly consumed any of them.

The cakes all follow a standard formula, starting with layers of cake, each coated with a soak to keep the cake super moist.  They then have multiple types of filling, like jam, cheesecake, fruit compotes, or even crack pie.  Frosting on top, but never on the sides.  And some kind of "crumb" on top.  To make any of these cakes, you essentially need to make at least 5 different recipes: cake, cake soak, filling, frosting, and crumbs.  Just like the cookies, these are complex creations.

I ruled out the chocolate chip cake because it had passion fruit curd, which is a flavor I am generally not a fan of.  Same with the strawberry lemon cake, due to the lemon cheesecake filling, even though it had milk crumbs, a strawberry jam layer, and pickled strawberry frosting, which sounded very fascinating.  I ruled out the apple pie cake because I don't generally like apple compote, although it was hard to look past the brown butter cake (treated with apple cider soak), brown butter cheesecake, pie dough frosting, and pie crumbs.  Passion fruit, lemon, and apples, excluded.  I still had 5 options.

Next I ruled out the chocolate malt cake, since it seemed the most boring and I don't actually love chocolate cake (not that it was plain, the cake had a Ovaltine soak, and it did have malted milk crumbs, charred marshmallows, chocolate fudge, and chocolate malt frosting).  I ruled out the salted pretzel cake due to the chocolate stout ganache and soak, worried the beer flavor would ruin the otherwise tasty sounding flavors (pretzel crumbs! burnt honey frosting!)

Narrowing in and choosing one from the final 3 options was hard.  I've had my eye on the Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake ... forever.  Yes, it is just a birthday cake, layers of rainbow cake (treated with a vanilla milk soak) with vanilla frosting and rainbow cake crumbs, but I know how good those rainbow cake crumbs are.  Alas, the occasion wasn't a birthday, so, I decided against it.  Finally, I ruled out the dulce de leche cake, worried that perhaps it would be too sweet for my group, with sweetened milk, dulce de leche caramel, and dulce de leche frosting.  Not everyone has the sweet tooth I do.

So I went with the final option, the German Chocolate Jimbo Cake.
German Chocolate Jimbo Cake.  6 inch. 
"A spin on the classic german chocolate cake! Chocolate cake layered with ooey-gooey crack pie® filling, flaky coconut and crunchy pecans! (milk bar first made this cake for jim nelson eic of gq magazine, hence the “jimbo”)".

The most impressive thing about this cake, besides it surviving the journey perfectly, was the layers.  I know all Momofuku cakes feature layers, but, nothing prepared me for what it actually was.

I *think* the layers were as follows, starting from the bottom:
  • chocolate cake
  • crack-coconut filling
  • chocolate fudge frosting
  • chocolate cake
  • crack-coconut filling
  • crunchy pecan filling
  • chocolate fudge frosting
  • chocolate cake
  • chocolate fudge frosting
  • coconut cake crumbs
So, 3 layers of chocolate cake, 3 layers of chocolate fudge frosting, 2 layers of crack-coconut filling, and one layer of crunchy pecan filling, plus the coconut crumbs on top.  And don't forget that the cake is soaked with "chocolate malt cake soak".  (Note: the chocolate frosting might actually have been chocolate malt frosting, I'm not sure which was used).

It was a stunning cake, in a non-traditional way.  The lack of frosting covering the sides allows you to see the layers (yay!) but it also means that the imperfections are visible.  It isn't a "clean" look.  It is like one of those babies that is cute, but not in the generic way ... in a slightly ugly cute sort of way.  You know what I mean.
"Slice" of the cake.
Cutting the cake was difficult.  I knew the first slice would be hard, but I expected it to get easier after that.  It didn't.  Kudos to anyone who can serve this without mangling it.  Not that anyone complained about being served a pile of cake layer rubble, but, it certainly wasn't pretty.

But, the real question ... how did it taste?

Honestly, it was a mixed bag for me.

The chocolate cake itself was fairly dry.  The cake was overnight mailed on Monday, I received it Tuesday and immediately put it in the fridge, and we ate it Wed at 1pm.  Maybe it was more moist originally?  It was dense, chocolately cake, but, drier, and far more crumbly, than I expected.  The cake was my least favorite element, but, I'm never a huge fan of cake itself anyway.

The chocolate fudge (or malt?) frosting was creamy and rich.  It was tasty enough, particularly when combined with the other fillings, but really, just standard good frosting.

The other fillings are where things start looking up.

The pecan crunch layer in the middle was one of my favorite elements, as I love pecans, and the additional crunch from the nut bits was great.

But the best filling was the crack-coconut filling.  It was a gooey coconut filling, with plenty of shredded coconut, that combined into very good bites with the pecan crunch and chocolate fudge.  I'll admit to feeling a bit let down that it didn't really resemble crack pie in any way other than that it was sweet and gooey, but, it was still quite tasty, so once I reset my expectations, I didn't mind.

My absolute favorite component however was the crumbs on top, I think coconut cake crumbs.  I loved the texture, the buttery nature, and the strong coconut flavor.  I've had many of the other flavors crumbs before, and I continue to think they are really the best part of Momofuku Milk Bar.  I honestly wish I could just buy crumbs, to use as an ice cream topping, or, uh, snack mix.

So overall, how was it?  It was an interesting cake.  It was fun to share with my co-workers.  I did like the fillings and the crumbs.  But the cake?  Eh.  I can't say it is worth the $45 overnight delivery fee.  Next time, I'll order more cookies ...
Read More...

Friday, January 20, 2017

KIND Bars

Update Review, Jan 2017

I've never really cared for Kind bars.  But, recently I discovered a newer product line, breakfast bars:
"Start your day with energizing whole grains. KIND® breakfast bars are made with a unique blend of ingredients, including five super grains and served in a convenient, on-the-go pack. Soft baked with a crispy outside, these bars are the delicious morning snack you can’t resist."
While granola bars tend to leave me dissatisfied, breakfast bars are generally more successful.  Kind makes breakfast bars in 5 varieties: blueberry almond, honey oat, raspberry chia, peanut butter, and dark chocolate cocoa.  I only tried one, but it didn't leave me wanting to try others.
Blueberry Almond.
"Blueberry Almond breakfast bars are made with a unique blend of ingredients, including five super grains, sweet blueberries and crunchy almonds."

I thought a breakfast bar would be a softer item.  More like oatmeal-in-a-bar, like I've had with other brands.  These were really just regular granola bars, in a different shape.

So, the shape.  The bars are thinner, shorter, and wider.  They come two to a pack, with a serving size of two.  I really don't know why they made them this shape?

The bar had a standard base of oats and crispy things (buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, millet), that was just crunchy and not interesting.  It was slightly sweet from cane syrup, honey, raisin paste, cranberries, apple puree and juice, and of course, the blueberries, but the dominant flavor was bitter, and I'm not sure why.  I didn't like this at all.

Original Review, March 2014

As I mentioned last week, I always carry snacks in my purse, particularly different types of snack bars.  They never quite do it for me, yet I keep trying.  As I write up more and more of these posts, I realize that perhaps the perfect snack bar for me just isn't out there, and I should give up, happy to be satisfied by any other type of snack.

But anyway, KIND bars are no exception to this rule.  KIND produces a slew of snack bars (22 and counting), along with grain based clusters.  I've tried bars from all three of their different snack bar product lines, but never the clusters, as I haven't seen them anywhere.

The bars are all natural, non GMO, gluten-free, no artificial ingredients, etc.  Yes, healthy snack options.  And like most other snack bars, I just don't find them to be anything special.

Fruit & Nut

Their original product line is the Fruit & Nut bars, "made of tasty, totally natural whole nuts and fruit (and a drizzle of honey)".
Fruit & Nut: Nut Delight.
I starting with the base of the Fruit & Nut snack bar line line: the simple Nut Delight.  Made from a bunch of mixed nuts, including whole peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts, stuck together with a honey/glucose mixture, and puffed rice.  This is a pretty simple bar.  Not much going on, just a bunch of nuts, slightly sweetened, and stuck together.  I was disappointed by the fact that it seemed to be mostly peanuts and almonds, my entire bar had only a single brazil nut and a single walnut.  I did like that the nuts were in large, almost whole, pieces.  It wasn't bad, but not particularly interesting.
 Fruit & Nut: Fruit & Nut Delight.
Next I upped it a notch to the Fruit & Nut Delight.  It is the same as the basic Nut Delight, but with dried apricots and raisins added in.  I loved the brazil nuts, and luckily this time, there was more than just one.  The flavors are great: brazil nuts, almonds, peanuts, apricots, sooo tasty!

Subsequent tasting notes: Didn’t like: all just soy crisp and peanuts, no flavors popped.  [ Great mix of nuts, loved the big chunks, and the sweetness from the dried fruit.  Also really good when a bit warm, as the sweeteners get sorta ooey-gooey.  Very good with tea! ]  Conclusion: the distribution of nuts and fruits is not consistent between bars.  Sometimes you luck out with the good stuff, sometimes you don't.
Fruit & Nut: Almond & Coconut.
Finally, another from this product line, the Almond & Coconut, made with mostly whole almonds and coconut flakes, with the same binding agents and sweeteners.

I thought I would like this, as I like almonds and coconuts, but ... I didn't.  It was really mostly just a compressed bar of coconut flakes, with a few scattered almonds.  A bit of sweetener.  I guess exactly as expected given the ingredients, but I somehow expected it to magically come together better than it did. Would not get again.

Nuts & Spices

Next I moved on to their newer product line, Nuts & Spices: "bars finely crafted from the highest quality whole nuts and nature's most delicious spices. Each seemingly indulgent recipe provides all natural protein, fiber and only 5g of sugar (or less)."
Nuts & Spices: Madagascar Vanilla Almond.
I started with the most simple bar from this line: Madagascar Vanilla Almond.  Made from "mixed nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts) with delicious Madagascar vanilla."  Same binding agents as the previous line.

This bar was primarily almonds, stuck together with something slightly sweet, along with a few little crispy rice things.  There wasn't any vanilla flavor noticeable.

Again, not bad exactly, but it wasn't as advertised.  If it was called just a "Slightly Sweet Almond Bar", I probably would have really liked it, but I was searching for the other promised nuts and hints of vanilla the whole time.
Nuts & Spices: Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan.
Next up was the tasty sounding Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan, a "combination of pecans, almonds, cashews, and peanuts drizzled in chocolate with a hint of cinnamon."

The description is funny, as it mentions a hint of cinnamon ... and this had not just a hint of cinnamon, it had tons of cinnamon flavor, it was by far the strongest flavor in the bar.  Or really, strongest flavor of any bar I tried.  The whole thing was kinda bitter, perhaps from the chicory?  The pecans sadly did not stick out amongst the mixed nuts, which was disappointing.  And the dark chocolate was flavorless.

Disappointing, and didn't live up to its tasty sounding description!
Nuts & Spices: Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt.
A final choice from the "Nuts & Spices" line, the Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt bar is "a sweet and salty blend of almonds, peanuts, and walnuts drizzled in chocolate with a touch of sea salt."  No cashews this time, which I appreciated, since I don't really like cashews.

A good mix of crunchy nuts, held together by the same sort of sweet glue as the others.  The dark chocolate was decent, but there wasn't much of it.  The salt seemed pretty inconsistent, some bites had some, some didn't.  This was one of the better bars I tried, but I still wouldn't buy more.

Subsequent tasting notes:  Again, I liked the mix of nuts, but I found the salt really inconsistent.  The bites that had it, I really liked, but it wasn't well dispersed.  Or maybe that is what they are going for, as every time I got some salt, I wanted to go back for more of the bar!

Plus Bars

The final category of bars is the Plus Bars, they "have a little something extra—boosts of absolutely all-natural nutrients like protein, fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. "
Cranberry Almond + Antioxidants.
I started with the Cranberry Almond + Antioxidants, it has "almonds, cranberries, macadamias, and puffed rice".

It should have been delicious, as I love macadamias!  But ... very meh, just kinda sweet, and the flavors didn’t really combine that well.

[ No photo]
Almond Cashew with Flax + Omega-3

"A chewy and crunchy blend of whole almonds, cashews and dates".

Another meh, not good flavors, just nuts in nasty date paste.
Read More...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Johnny Doughnuts

Johnny Doughnuts has been on my radar for a while.  Because, well, I love donuts and always have my eye on places with good reviews.  I also semi-regularly have the need to provide donuts for my group at work for special occasions, and need to find places that can handle fairly large size orders, which, your average donut shop does not.

I had wanted to try Johnny Doughnuts many times, but, it was never a possibility.  For one, they are located in San Rafael, so, I never had a chance to just go myself in person to their shop,  But second, for delivery orders to San Francisco, they have a 2 dozen minimum, at $34 per dozen, plus a $50 delivery fee.  I haven't ever been able to arrange for this, as I just couldn't justify the higher costs compared to local options.

But finally, finally, we were able to order from Johnny Doughnuts for a team-wide all hands.  I was so excited to try them.  For that first order, we stuck with raised and old fashioned donuts (plus some fritters, because, um, my favorites), but Johnny Doughnuts also makes bismarks (filled with jams and custards), cro-doughs (croissant + donuts), cinnamon rolls and twists, and even vegan or gluten-free donuts, most of which I tried at subsequent events (keep reading!).

I still haven't visited the donut shop in San Rafael, but, it turns out they are opening one in San Francisco (in Hayes Valley), so, you can bet I'll check it out once they do.  They also proved great at handling catering orders (so we ordered from them for our next large team event too), and have multiple donut trucks that they can bring to your food truck party.  You'll find them at Off the Grid and other events around town too.

At both events I hosted with Johnny Doughnuts, the donuts were the best rated by the group, and, at this point, we have ordered donuts from a lot of places.  They blew trendy places like Dynamo out of the water.  They blew SF institutions like Bob's out of the water (stay tuned for review).  These are very good donuts, and I've never seen so many of my teammates go back for seconds.

The donuts are also huge.  On every single occasion we ordered them, most people immediately commented that they were too big.  And I'll admit, they kinda are.  I just saved part for later, knowing I'd want more, but most people took to hacking them up with knives to cut off reasonable size chunks.  This is one area where I do appreciate how Donut Savant makes the perfect size donuts, smaller than average, where these were much larger than average.  Even the donut holes were about 2x the size of normal!  But I'm not really complaining, who complains about too much donut?  And, obviously, if life gives yous leftover donuts, waffle them the next morning (trust me).

Encounter #1, July 2016

We ordered several dozen assorted full size donuts, which included a mix of old fashioned, raised, and fritters.  Each box was different, and none were boring plain donuts.

We also ordered donut holes, to satisfy those who wanted a smaller treat.  The assortment was perfect.
Box #1: Dozen Assorted Donuts.  $34.00.
This box contained:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Chocolate Salted Caramel (1 each, back row and second row from back)
  • Raised: Blueberry, Classic Glazed, Sprinkly Guys (vanilla dipped with rainbow sprinkles). (1 each, middle rows)
  • Apple Fritters (2, second row) 
  • Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (2, front row)
The raised donuts were good, the fritters were great, but, the old fashioned were absolutely insane.
Box #2: Dozen Assorted Donuts. $34.00.
The next box had a similar mix, but some differences:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Salted Caramel Chocolate (back row)
  • Raised: Classic Chocolate, Sprinkly Guys (chocolate dipped with sprinkles), Classic Glazed, Sugar Daddy, Lime Poppy Seed, Strawberry (middle rows).
  • Apple Fritter and Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (1 each, front row)
We had several other boxes, all filled with similar mixes.  Combined, we received all varieties of raised donuts that they make other than the Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle) and all old fashioned except the plain non-glazed.

I really appreciated the thoughtful assortment.

Raised Donuts

So, let's start with the raised donuts.
"Our take on a “light and fluffy” doughnut. A Southern recipe dating back to the 1920’s, using fresh potato to the dough to give more of a bite.  The yeast in the recipe requires the dough to rise before being fried to give it that airy feel, hence the name – raised. Mix that unique dough with our unbelievably tasty homemade glazes and it’s a win-win every time."
These are available in 9 varieties, plus seasonal specialties:
  • Classic Glazed
  • Classic Chocolate
  • Lime Poppy Seed
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle)
  • Sprinkly Guys (dipped in chocolate or vanilla and topped with sprinkles)
  • Sugar Daddy (rolled in sugar)
We had all but the Zebra.  They were all good, fluffy, raised donuts, massive in size.  The potato in the dough definitely gave them a little something extra.  The coatings were perfectly executed.

One co-worker had one of the dipped raised donuts, I forget which flavor, and said, "Well, I think that was honestly the best donut I've ever had!"  Victory!
Classic Glazed. $3.25.
I started with a classic glazed.  You can't judge the rest until you try a basic glazed donut, right?

It was a fine donut.  Very fluffy, massive.  Well coated in glaze on all sides.  Not too oily.  I think I sorta tasted the potato, not in a bad way though, just in a "hey, that dough has something a little more interesting about it" way, like if you ever have potato bread.  It was fresh tasting.  Not particularly earth shattering, but, unless it is hot and fresh out of the fryer, a classic glazed rarely is.
Sugar Daddy. $3.25.
On the basic side, I also tried the "Sugar Daddy", a sugar coated raised donut.  It was perfectly coated in sugar crystals, and tasty, but, sugar coated donuts always make me want them to be jelly filled (more on that soon).
Strawberry.
I also tried the strawberry iced.  Like all the iced options, it was perfectly dipped in strawberry frosting, and the icing was  thick.  The donut was the same as all the other raised donuts, fluffy, raised, massive, but the glaze was incredible.  It tasted like fresh strawberries.  It tasted like summer.  It wasn't a fake strawberry taste at all.  Just ripe, juicy, perfect berries at their peak.  Incredible how much flavor was captured in that glaze.

I also tried the blueberry, equally fruity.
Lime Poppy Seed. $3.25.
The lime poppy seed caught me by surprise as I thought it was vanilla bean (with specs of vanilla bean, not poppy seeds), so it caught me off guard when it was tangy.  If you like lime though, by all means, this was likely a great thing.
Sprinkly Guys (Vanilla Version). $3.25.
Next I moved on to one that looked far more fun: the Sprinkly Guys.  These are available in two versions, chocolate or vanilla, referring to the flavor of glaze they are coated in.  I picked vanilla.

The base was the same huge, yeasty, fluffy donut.

I adore sprinkles, so, this was right up my alley.  It was ridiculously generously coated in colorful rainbow sprinkles.  They added a bit of crunch and more sweetness.  The vanilla glaze was more appealing to me than the standard glaze from the classic, as it was sweeter and thicker.  My favorite of the toppings.

Overall, a fun donut, but VERY sweet.  I can't imagine eating a full one in one sitting without being on a ridiculous sugar high.  This would be better served as a donut hole in my opinion (and then, all sides could have sprinkles!)

Update: I had another, months later.  I didn't love it quite as much this time.  The vanilla glaze and sprinkles weren't as overwhelmingly sweet, and I tasted a lot more of the plain doughnut.  It was still a fine doughnut, but, it wasn't as magic for me as the first encounter.
Classic Chocolate Glazed.  $3.25.
I also grabbed a chocolate glazed for another co-worker.  I didn't try it, but, included the photo just to show you how well dipped it was in the chocolate.  It was pretty remarkable that the donuts didn't get messed up all in a box together, and transported all the way to us.

Donut Holes

Next up were the donut holes, ordered to accommodate those who just want "a little something."
"Our raised dough in easy-to-eat rounds of goodness. Available in Vanilla Glazed or Cinnamon Sugar."
We ordered a big box of vanilla glazed.
Vanilla Glazed Holes. $0.50/each.
When I think of donut holes, I think of Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins.  They were a big part of my formative years.  So, donut holes should be bite sized, in my mind.

But that is because the whole thing with donut holes is that they fill in the hole of the donut.  If the donut is ridiculously large, well, then the hole is ridiculous large, so, these holes were actually likely scaled accordingly.  They seemed about two times as big as any other donut hole I've encountered.

The donut holes were very similar to the full sized raised donuts.  Fluffy, well glazed.  The vanilla glaze was the same as what I had on the vanilla Sprinkly Guys.  These were actually a nice size for just wanting a donut, and not feeling overwhelmed.  The members of my group who had restraint actually just had one of these each, and said they were satisfied.

Old Fashioned

Johnny Doughnuts doesn't make basic cake donuts, but they make Old Fashioned, aka, non-yeasted cake donuts with jaggy edges.  As in, more interesting cake donuts.  At least, that is how I think of them.  They say:
"Combining recipes from the 1930’s we’ve come up with an Old Fashioned unlike any other. 
With seasonings like nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon in the dough - it’s no wonder these doughnuts are nicknamed The Life Changers. This cake-like doughnut has just enough crunch on the outside and moistness in the middle to truly make you wonder how you had ever gone without it."
Old Fashioned are available at Johnny Doughnuts in 5 varieties:
  • Classic (no glaze)
  • Vanilla Glazed
  • Maple Glazed
  • Salted Chocolate Caramel
  • Chocolate Maple Glazed
I was excited to see old fashioned donuts taken so seriously.  Often, old fashioned are only plain.  Why wouldn't you want the crunchy exterior of a old fashioned, plus the sweet deliciousness of glaze? Why do I need to pick?

Anyway, our assorted boxes had all but the plain ones.  The old fashioned turned out to be the best of our assortment.
Maple Glazed.  $3.25.
This was an incredible donut.  Let me just lead with that.  Like the raised donuts, it was also massive.

I'm not normally very excited about old fashioned donuts, so I took a chunk of one of these, just for purposes of reviewing really.  I was planning to gorge on fritters and raised donuts instead.  But, one bite into this, and I turned right back around and took more.

First, the texture was perfect.  Crunchy on the outside, dense and moist inside.  They also nailed the nooks and crannies and jaggy bits.

But that isn't what set this apart.  No, it was the flavor that set it apart.  The base dough was unlike anything I'd ever had before, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Which, honestly, doesn't seem appealing to me.  I thought it would just taste like Pumpkin Spice Season, Christmas, or something, trendy but not great.  But here, the spices were strong enough to taste, for sure, but subtle enough to not scream spice cake.  I was fascinated by the flavor, and really enjoyed it.

The maple glaze was also phenomenal.  Sweet, maple-y, and crusty in all the right ways.  The sweetness complimented the slightly savory base nicely.

This donut was an absolute winner.  Sweet crusty glaze, crispy but not oily fried exterior, moist, dense flavorful interior.  Hands down the best old fashioned donut I've ever had.  I'd get another in a heartbeat, and I'd love to try some of the other flavor glazes too.
Chocolate Salted Caramel. $3.25.
I loved the maple glazed so much that I was excited to try the chocolate salted caramel version.  It sounded like a winner, and the visible caramel made me quite excited.

Interesting, I didn't like this.  The chocolate and caramel just really didn't go with the base flavor, at least to me.

I'd love to try the classic vanilla glazed old fashioned too, but I think the maple is likely the winner.

Fritters

So, moving on.

Fritters tend to be my favorite donuts.  Does this surprise you in any way?  Take something already decadent, and make it even worse for you, and of course I'll want it.

Johnny Doughnuts makes a classic apple fritter, but they also make a blueberry caramel apple version (that I didn't get to try), and a "Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang", a gluten-free offering (although, they aren't a gluten-free facility, so, be careful if that matters to you).

Fritters are slightly more expensive than the regular donuts ($3.50 vs $3.25), and not included in the regular dozens, but, since I love fritters I asked that we order a few of those too.

The fritters were good, but, the old fashioned remained my favorite.
Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang. $3.50.
"The Fritter Thang is filled with chunks of fresh fruit, topped with vanilla glaze and heres the best part – it tastes like a doughnut should taste! With texture similar to our Old Fashioneds, this gem – a WHEAT FREE DOUGHNUT?! – is a rarity in the doughnut world, and loved by wheat-free and wheat-loving treatseekers alike."

I read many rave reviews about this, from gluten-free and non-gluten free folks.  It was actually the first thing I went for when our donuts arrived.  It was certainly the most unique.  It was also my least favorite.

It was a crazy looking thing, jagged and all over the place.  One of my co-workers said it looked like a chunk of coral.  It was coated in a thick layer of the tasty vanilla glaze.  I did like the crispy "legs" and the sweet glaze, but, I didn't really like the base flavor of the dough.  It tasted kinda like whole wheat to me (which is amusing given that it was wheat free).  Sorta too "healthy" tasting for me.  Inside the folds were juicy blueberries, a totally different sort of thing to put into a donut than the standard apple chunks.

My co-worker who really liked it said it was like a cross between a blueberry muffin and a fritter, which was a great description.  There is no reason not to combine these things, and I don't know why fritters are always apple.  Blueberries are better, and blueberry muffins are so standard, so, why not blueberries in donuts?

Anyway, I appreciated this for its uniqueness, but I wasn't really sold on the wheat-free base.  I would have happily consumed it, but, luckily, we had many other choices around, and I passed this off to someone else after I cut off a big chunk.
Apple Fritter. $3.50.
"Caramelized apple chunks folded into our raised dough in this rustic fritter."

And finally, the classic fritter.  The donut I always describe as "the king of donuts".  In a box of donuts, unless I'm in a really strange mood, it is the one I nearly always go for.

This was a very good, totally classic execution of a fritter.  It had plentiful chunks of soft, sweet apple, caramelized and nicely spiced.  The care put into the apple was unlike most fritters, as I don't think they are normally caramelized and spiced like this.  It was crazy moist inside, yet crispy outside.  It was a bit oily, but, that is true of most fritters.  It was big and dense, like a big ol' fritter should be.  While the other donuts all seemed super sized, this one seemed normal, but, that is because fritters are always freakishly huge.  It was perfectly coated in plenty of sweet glaze.

There was nothing unexpected here, but every aspect of it was spot on.  A very good fritter.  I'd gladly have another.

Encounter #2, October 2016

My office can be a wonderful place.  Like, when I get in on a Friday morning and there is an e-mail saying, "Whoops, we mis-ordered donuts, and have several extra dozen donuts today, from Johnny Donuts.  Come and get them."  Let's just say, I went running.

This group also ordered an assortment, including many of the raised and old fashioned donuts I had before, but also, they had a few new items: cinnamon rolls, cinnamon twists, and bismarks!

I was thrilled to get to try more items, but, my favorite this time around was the super sweet vanilla iced Sprinkly Guys.  I think I was just in a sweet mood.

Cinnamon

"Cinnamon lovers rejoice!  With cinnamon wrapped, rolled and twisted into the abyss of this specialty raised dough, you’ll get the perfect cinnamon flavor in every bite. Not to mention, with their twists and turns they are really like doughnut art."
Cinnamon creations are available in 4 varieties: vanilla glazed or chocolate maple glazed cinnamon rolls, or cinnamon sugar or glazed cinnamon twists.
Vanilla Glazed Cinnamon Roll.
I opted to try a vanilla glazed cinnamon roll.  Like all the donuts, these were massive.

The cinnamon roll itself was fairly unremarkable, just in that it didn't break the mold in quite the same way as some of the other Johnny Doughnuts do.  The dough was moist, there was ample cinnamon between the folds, and it was good, and I liked the sweet vanilla glaze, slightly crusty, but not in a bad way.  But overall, it was just a good donut-style cinnamon roll, not a game changer.

Bismarks

And finally ... the ones I had been waiting for: bismarks!
"What is a bismark you say? To put it simply, they are the Holy Grail of filled doughnuts. With homemade jams and custards oozing out of them, they are what we call ‘serious doughnuts.’ We suggest having a napkin and a friend nearby, because you will feel compelled to share these beauties with the rest of the world."
Bismarks are available with fruit fillings (wild berry jam, strawberry peach jam, raspberry jam) or custards (lime mascarpone, chocolate glazed with vanilla cream).
Wild Berry Jam .
The fruit filled bismarks are all coated in sugar.

The dough was the same nice yeasty dough as the other raised donuts, as expected.
Wild Berry Jam: inside.
The filling was quite generous, no skimping here.  It was a sweet berry goo.  I have no real reason why, but I didn't like it.  It was just ... berry goo.

I had kinda over-done it with donuts by the time I tried this one though, so I think this was my own fault.  I'd like to try it again when I wasn't overwhelmed with donuts.

Encounter #3, November 2016

Another month, another donut party.  We again ordered dozens.
Dozen and dozens of donuts.
This time the person making the order went more traditional, picking 2 raised (classic glazed and sugar daddy), 2 old fashioned (maple glazed and chocolate salted caramel), and 2 bismarks (wild berry jam and lime mascarpone), rather than the assortments, ordering by the dozen each.

Over the course of the day, I tried almost all of the donuts.
Sugar Daddy Raised Dozen.
The raised donuts were as I remembered - large, puffy, fluffy, moist, not oily, decent raised donuts.  The sugar daddy and classic glazed were perhaps boring choices, but likely the crowd pleasers.  They are classics for a reason.

Of the raised donuts though, I still prefer the sprinkly guys, as I'm a sucker for icing and sprinkles.
Lime Mascarpone Bismark, Dozen.
I wasn't into the wild berry bismark before, so this time I tried the lime mascarpone.  I was excited for a cream filled donut, and for mascarpone in particular, but, I don't care for lime, so I was a bit hesitant.

And ... yeah, while the donut itself was the expected fluffy raised donut, the lime mascarpone was too eggy and limey for my taste.
Maple Glazed Old Fashioned Dozen.
The maple glazed old fashioned remained my absolute favorite, and I managed to consume an entire one in one sitting, which, if you saw how big these were, you would realize actually is a bit of an accomplishment.

I just love the texture of the cake donut inside, and the spicing that makes it taste almost hearty or even healthy.  The slightly crispy exterior is great too, and the insanely generous amount of very sweet, crusty, maple glaze is to die for.  The glaze is very sweet, but the base donut isn't, so it just combines perfectly.

I tried the chocolate salted caramel old fashioned again too, to give it another chance, and this time, I tried it first, before I had any possible donut fatigue.  But ... yeah, I didn't like it, that flavor combination just does't work for me.

Encounter #4, December 2016: The Truck!

One very chilly day in December, I was walking down the street, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... a Johnny Doughnut truck.  I was excited to see it in person, but it was closed up, and not open for business.  I assume it was just out doing deliveries, ducked into a store to check out a sale rack, and didn't give it another though (ok, that's a lie, I did wonder who the lucky recipient of the donuts was).  To my amazement, when I emerged from the store a mere 10 minutes later, the truck was set up and opening for business.  The better part?  Um, they were giving free donuts to customers of the store I had just left.  My morning was suddenly looking *much* better!
"The Newb"
Johnny Doughnuts actually has 3 different trucks, "The Original", a serious truck used for large events like Off the Grid, "The Butler", a van with an amazing doughnut display bolted on the outside, and, "The Newb", which is the one I encountered.
Doughnut Display.
As you can see, the side of the truck raises up to form an awning, and behind it, a doughnut display!  This truck has some serious curb appeal.

The window revealed an assortment of raised doughnuts (Lime Poppy Seed, Zebra, Strawberry, Blueberry, Classic Glazed, both types of Sprinkly Guys, and Classic Chocolate), plus the Wheat-Free Fritter Thangs and Crodoughs (my first sighting!).

Not pictured here, because he was still doing it after I took the photo, is the names of all the doughnuts, written onto the glass.
Ordering Area.
The ordering window next to the display had another display, with even more options: Assorted Old Fashioned (classic glazed, salted caramel chocolate), Caramel Apple Fritters, Maple Glazed Bars, Bismarks (Wild Berry Jam, Lime Mascarpone, and a seasonally decorated Chocolate Vanilla Cream., and Cinnamon Rolls.

Crodough

When I encountered the truck, I had already tried nearly every doughnut they had on board.  I knew the raised doughnuts were solid, as were the fritters and cinnamon rolls, but that I really liked the Old Fashioned.  I knew the bismarks and fritter thangs were my least favorites.  But I also hadn't tried the crodough.  I didn't really have a choice, did I?

For the unfamiliar, the crodough is Johnny Doughnut's version of a Cronut, the trademarked famed croissant + doughnut hybrid of 2013 fame.  In the past 3 years, these sorts of items have been popping up everywhere, including the last place I ordered team donuts from, Donut Savant, where the cronut didn't impress, and even across the world in Sydney, where I had an ok version at Bécasse, and even at Dunkin' Donuts, where, yes, it is just as mediocre as you'd expect.

Johnny Doughnuts describes theirs as:
"This flaky piece of heaven! Our Crodough has laminated layers, just like a croissant. We let these unique doughnut-wanna-bes rise before gently placing them into the frier to become the doughnuts they so desperately want to be. Sometimes rolled in Cinnamon Sugar, or perhaps topped with Chocolate glaze, we make sure the custard is filled through every. Single. Layer."
I was very curious to see how a doughnut-croissant hybrid from a good place would be.  Spoiler: amazing, and my favorite Johnny Doughnut item so far (and it really isn't just because it is a hyped item, believe me, I've had a lot of mediocre cronuts!)
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough.  $3.50.
Like all the Johnny Doughnuts, this thing was not for wimps.  While the other doughnuts are all massive in their diameter, this one is massive in its height!  Look at the thing!

It was absolutely coated in cinnamon and sugar, and the coating went perfectly with the crispy fried dough exterior.  I loved how it was slightly crisp on the outside from being fried.

It was a bit hard to just bite into as it was so tall, but I didn't mind ripping (and later, once I slowed down a bit, cutting) it into pieces.
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough: Inside.
But the crodough isn't just a well fried hunk of doughnut dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  It was remarkable just in that way, like any good fried dough from a state fair, or a churro on the street, but this had more to give.

The dough was layered like a croissant, but, not flaky like one, as it is fried rather than baked.  It was dense, slightly sweet, and I liked the taste and texture of this dough more than the regular doughnuts event.

But it still had more to go.  Inside, was custard filling, a decent amount, all along the middle layer.  The cream distribution was pretty good, although you can see in this cross-section that the left-hand side didn't have any cream in this part.  The pastry cream inside was rich, creamy, vanilla custard, tasty on its own, and likely the same filling that goes into the chocolate glazed vanilla cream filled bismarks.

This was a winner all around.  I liked the crispy exterior and the dense interior.  I loved the cinnamon sugar coating.  The cream filling was quality.  If you like churros, state fair fried dough, boston cream doughnuts, or really, just tasty fried things, sugar, and cream, go for one of these, highly recommended.
Johnny Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Corn Cheese

Yes, I use my waffle iron as my preferred method of reheating leftovers, whenever I can.  It often leads to great discoveries (I no longer want to eat pizza any other way!), and sometimes leads to, uh, less successful results.

You can read all about my waffling leftovers adventures here.

Today's question: "Corn Cheese" - Will it waffle?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.  But it doesn't mean the results weren't delicious!

The Original

First, I probably need to back up.  What is ... "corn cheese"?  It is a Korean dish, made from, I'm not joking, the following ingredients: corn, butter, mayo (Japanese Kewpie mayo if you have it), cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and miso.  Corn, butter, and miso are relatively tame, but, then add in mayo and two types of cheese?  Behold, corn cheese (Lucky Peach recipe here).
Corn Cheese Casserole.
The original form of corn cheese is a thing of wonder.  A very thick layer of cheese on top.  Mayo and liquid cheesiness spilling out the sides.  Do you see any vegetables in here? Nah.  This dish is not really about the corn.

Corn cheese is delicious fresh from the oven in this form.  Hot, creamy, bubbling, comfort food.  The miso adds a touch of interesting flavor, and the mayo and cream cheese combine to create a very creamy sauce.  I love the top crust of cheese too.  And the corn?  Yup, its there, adding some texture and sweetness, but, really, this is about the cheese/mayo combo.

Waffling

But of course, as with most leftovers I have, I decided to test out the idea of waffling my leftover corn cheese.  My hypothesis is that it would turn into something like a thai corn cake.
Leftover Corn Cheese.
If you have leftovers, which, you should, as this dish requires some restraint, it reheats pretty well in a toaster oven too, although some separation is expected.

I've found that I actually enjoy corn cheese nearly as much just straight from the fridge, cold, but it loses the creaminess and becomes more of a pasta salad, but, uh, with corn in place of the pasta.  Still tasty, but quite different.
Not Looking Good ...
I took the simple approach to waffling, and inserted a slab of corn cheese at 350 degrees.  I seemed to have forgotten all the lessons I learned when waffling mac and cheese though, namely, that I needed to crust it.

When I checked on it, I could tell things weren't going great.  It separated, which often happens, but, as I waited patiently, the situation didn't improve.  I could see it burning.  This was not going to be a case where just giving it more time magically fixes it.
Corn Cheese Rubble.
The corn cheese, sans crusting, most certainly did not form a waffle that held together.  Extracting it was quite the process, even with my nonstick waffle plates.  I ended up using a chopstick to scrape it all out, and then removing the plates to dump the rubble onto my plate.

It looked burnt.  It looked like a fail. I instantly turned on the toaster oven to just heat some more up normally.  I thought this was headed for the trash.  But I still tried a bite.

And, well, I liked it.

Was it a waffle?  Of course not.  But it was crispy corn with crispy bits of cheese.  It didn't actually taste burnt.  A waffle disaster, yes, but, still really tasty.

This was a transformation of the original dish for sure, the creaminess that I love so much from the regular hot version nonexistent here.  But, I really enjoyed it.
Read More...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Club Europe, BA 307, CDG-LHR

The flight: BA 307, CDG-LHR
Travel class: Club Europe
Departure time: 10:30 AM,
Meal served: Breakfast? Brunch?

For the first leg of my journey back to San Francisco from Paris, we boarded BA 307, an A321.  This was the same aircraft as our last flight, from Heathrow to Paris, again in Club Europe.  Not much to say here, comfortable enough seats, with the middle seat reserved between Ojan and I.

Meal service began as fast as humanly possible, which is necessary given the only 45 minute flight time.
"Brunch".
No option for the meal, just a continental meat and cheese platter and passed bread basket with assorted rolls.  No danishes, croissants, or anything breakfasty, even though it was a morning departure.

Our platters had what was I think ham, salami, and perhaps prosciutto for meat options. I couldn't identify the single type of cheese, inoffensive cheddar I guess?  Also on the platter were two black olives and a cherry tomato, 2 chunks of hard boiled egg, and a dollop of a white cream.  We couldn’t figure out what it was.  It wasn’t sour cream. It wasn’t cream cheese.  Ojan thought it was Greek yogurt perhaps, but that makes no sense with everything else on the dish.

I didn’t like anything on this platter.  The charcuterie was flabby, the salami greasy, and the cheese flavorless.

I opted for the seeded roll, which was decent, served warm.

On the tray was butter, whole milk, salt and pepper, sugar, and a hand wipe.

It took a VERY long time for drinks to reach me in row 3.  I had my tray for a full 10 minutes, then the captain came on to announce that we were descending, and economy already had their drink service completed before a drink was offered to me.  I was parched, absolutely parched, and this was excruciating.  I eventually got my crappy instant decaf (that always tastes strangely chocolatey) and sparkling water.

Anyway, very lackluster “meal”, not that I needed it because I had breakfast in both the American Airline’s Admiral’s Club AND the Cathay Pacific lounge at the CDG airport, AND had breakfast at my hotel before that, and of course I was looking forward to more dining in the assorted lounges at Heathrow in just a few minutes ….
Read More...

Monday, January 16, 2017

New and Seasonal Beverages from Starbucks

Update Review, December 2016 / January 2017

I generally stay away from the seasonal beverages at Starbucks (although I have had some successes before), mostly because I don't generally want a very sugary dessert-in-a-cup style latte.  If I'm getting coffee, I want it black.  I want to taste the  bitter.  The exception of course is if I want a sweet blended icy drink, but, I don't consider that coffee.  And, to be clear, this isn't that I don't like sugar, fat, and delicious things, it is just that I usually pick a "real" dessert, a piece of pie or an ice cream sundae over a sweet warm liquid beverage.

But, at the end of December, Starbucks drew me in with their 10 days of Cheer Celebration, where they offered free tall beverages from 1-2pm at 100 locations around the country every day, for 10 days.  I missed out on most of the days of the promotion since I was in New Hampshire where they didn't have any Starbucks stores, but I was able to make it for a few days once I returned t San Francisco.  I used it as an opportunity to get something crazy and different, and try the seasonal drinks, because, why not?  They were free!

Of the three drinks I tried, one was quite good, one was awful, and the other was decent.  I'd say my trials were a success.
Chestnut Praline Latte, Soy, Decaf.  Tall.  $5.05.
"Quintessentially festive flavors like caramelized chestnuts and subtle holiday spices mingle with our signature espresso and rich steamed milk. Topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of spiced praline crumbs."

The first day, I went for the seasonal chestnut praline latte, because I do like chestnuts and praline, and, uh, it comes with whipped cream.  Since it was 1pm when I ordered, I opted for decaf, and since it was free, I went for soy milk (I love the flavor of soy, but usually don't splurge for the extra charge).

The flavor of the latte was ... sweet and spiced.  I'm not sure I'd say I tasted "caramelized chestnut" or "praline" or "subtle holiday spices", but it was sweet and spiced in an interesting way.  You couldn't taste the espresso at all, as it was drowned out by sweet syrup and milk.  

The toppings were great.  My barista originally didn't add the whipped cream on mine since I got soy, but I assured him I did indeed want it.  The whipped cream wasn't anything special, but it melted in nicely, and provided a surface for all the delicious praline crunch topping to set on top of.  That stuff was crunchy, sweet, and totally delicious.  To be honest, the latte was basically just sweet spiced milk, but the whipped cream and topping were tasty dessert.

So, I'll admit ... this was very delicious, particularly comforting on a fairly cold San Francisco day.  Was it a coffee?  Well, no.  But for a warm liquid-dessert-in-a-cup, it was very tasty, and I gulped it down way too quickly.

The cost is normally $5.05, even for the smallest size ($0.50 extra for soy).  I wouldn't ever pay that myself, but for a freebie, who is complaining?
Chile Mocha, Soy, Extra Foamy, Whip, Decaf, Tall.  $5.05.
"Cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla satisfy your sweet tooth while ancho and cayenne chile spices answer the call for something warmer ... for those mornings that need an extra kick."

The next day the San Francisco popup location was 3 blocks from my house.  I couldn't resist swinging by, and trying another seasonal beverage, this time the Chile Mocha, as I recently discovered that I like putting a little cayenne in my coffee for some extra kick from time to time.  I again opted for decaf and soy, and this time asked for extra foam, since I like a foamier beverage.

The chile mocha is quite different from most Starbucks chocolately beverages, in that it does not use mocha sauce.  Instead, it uses cinnamon (and sugar of course) infused cocoa powder (I'm pretty sure no other beverages use cocoa powder).  The chocolate flavor isn't quite as pronounced as in a mocha, but it is a deeper, richer chocolate flavor.  Real cocoa seems better than whatever goes in the sauce?  The cinnamon adds a "Mexican chocolate" element to it that I liked.

On top is whipped cream and the magic spiced mocha topping with chile pepper, more cinnamon, and paprika.  (I kinda think the paprika is just for color?)

This drink was one of the better flavored espresso drinks that I have ever had from Starbucks.  It wasn't overboard on the sweet.  The cinnamon and chile added a lot more complexity to the flavor than syrupy ingredients like caramel, flan, dolce, and the other more commonly used additives.   Was it spicy?  Not really, but it was spiced, and that was nice.  I'd get it again.
Holiday Spice Flat White, Soy, Decaf, with Whip.
"Smooth ristretto shots of Christmas Blend Espresso Roast and perfectly steamed micro-foam are infused with warm holiday spices to create a festive version of an espresso classic."

On the final day, I went even more rogue, and got the holiday version of the flat white.  As always, I opted for soy and decaf.  This drink does not normally include whipped cream, but I asked for it added, because, well, whipped cream.

This was the least successful of the holiday drinks that I tried, by far.  On the plus side, it wasn't too sweet.  But it also just wasn't good.  It doesn't use a a sauce or syrup like most Starbucks drinks, but uses a "Holiday Spice Blend", a mix including seasonal favorites like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, plus sugar (of course), and, uh, rice concentrate and citric acid?

It was just kinda gritty from all the spices (2 big scoops go into a tall), and the bottom of my drink was just all spices, like sludge.  The flavors all seemed muddled.  I certainly wouldn't get this again.

Original Review, January 2014

When I last posted about Starbucks, I hadn't tried many items.  Since I've had a bunch more since, it seemed only fitting that I post a new review.

I still haven't found a coffee drink there that I'm all that excited about, but I keep trying, as everyone else seems to love it, so I figure, I must just need to find "my" drink.  In addition to trying the basic drinks, I've tried pretty much every seasonal drink that I've seen.  The Eggnog Latte was the best I've found so far, but sadly is only available for a very short time, so I'll have to continue my quest, perhaps moving back to their standard drinks, particularly the iced or blended ones, once it becomes warm out.

In general, I must say, the staff at Starbucks are always surprisingly friendly and helpful, no matter which location I visit.  When I've asked about the different drinks, they've seemed happy to explain them, and always add in a line about how if I'm not happy with it, they'll just make me something else.  This clearly seems part of the corporate mantra, as I've been told that every single time I've asked anything about a drink, like "is that one very sweet?".  I haven't ever taken them up on this offer, but it is kinda nice to hear.  It makes me brave enough to order these ridiculous things!
Tall Eggnog Latte, Decaf.  $3.75.
I've probably only had a glass of eggnog ... once in my life?  Maybe twice?  But for some reason, this holiday season, I was seriously craving it.  I had pretty much every eggnog flavored thing I came across (cakes with eggnog drizzle, almonds in eggnog chocolate coating, eggnog crème brûlée, etc, etc).  So when I saw the eggnog latte listed, I took a serious leap of faith and went for it.

Unlike most of the flavored drinks at Starbucks, this is not just a latte with eggnog flavored syrup in it, it is actually made with eggnog in place of the steamed milk.  It is then topped with some ground nutmeg.  This is uh, not a light drink.

I liked this far more than I was expecting.  I think I really just was in the mood for it.  It was warm, it was sweet but not overpowering, and it was really pleasantly spiced.  Was it earth shattering?  No.  But a nice warm beverage filled with holiday flavors for sure.  I'd even consider another if I was strangely craving eggnog again.  Sadly only available around Christmas.
Tall Vanilla Spice Latte, Soy, Whip.  $4.35.
Another seasonal offering, and I felt like something kinda dessert-y.  Desserty it was.  Described as "Starbucks signature espresso combined with freshly steamed milk, rich vanilla, and subtle hints of cardamom and spice. Topped with whipped cream, crushed vanilla bean and a touch of sugar."

I asked the girl taking my order about it, asking if it was sweet.  She said it wasn't too sweet, and that the spicing was really nice, like horchata.  I do sometimes like horchata, so this sounded good.  I asked what the "spice" was, and she got really excited, proclaiming "carmadon!"  Then she looked puzzled. And tried again, "carmadom!"  And again.  Finally she was just like "its that spice that ends in 'dom'!  It is really good!".  Sigh.

I still got it, and went for soy since I love the flavor of soy milk.  I totally forgot to specify decaf in all the 'carmadon' excitement.  Whoops.

Anyway.  This drink was crazy sweet.  All I tasted was sweet.  I could not identify the sweetness as vanilla at all.  I did not taste any espresso.  I did not taste any soy, which I paid a whopping $0.60 extra for.  I know soy milk is more expensive, but for a tall size beverage, I really don't see how that soy milk costs $0.60.

Anyway.  There was some spicing, and I did taste the cardamom.   That part was pleasant, and reminded me slightly of a chai.  I'm not really sure I'd say it tasted like a horchata, but I can see where she was coming from.  The whipped cream on top was their standard whip, not that great, but it added an additional creaminess.  The only really interesting thing about this drink was the crushed vanilla bean and sugar on top of the whipped cream.  They added a nice little crunch.

Overall, this was not a good drink.  Way too sweet, no good flavor, and very expensive for a small drink.  Would not get again.
Tall Caramel Flan Latte, Skim, Decaf.
And yet another new seasonal treat, promising to taste like dessert.  And in this case, a particular dessert: flan.  Fully described as "espresso with steamed milk and caramel flavors of creamy flan. Topped with caramel-infused whipped cream and caramel flan drizzle."

Since I haven't ever loved Starbucks drinks in general, and I don't even love flan that much, I wouldn't normally get this.  But, to help get people trying them, Starbucks offered one for free, and you know I can't resist freebies ...

It was basically what I'd expect.  Creamy, sweet.  It didn't matter that I don't like Starbucks decaf coffee, because I couldn't taste any coffee in here.  The caramel whipped cream and caramel drizzle were tasty, but please, this is not a coffee.

I wouldn't get another, but I gladly finished the one I had.
Tall Hazelnut Macchiato, Skim, Decaf.  $3.55.
Not a seasonal offering, but a new menu item: the Hazelnut Macchiato.  Basically the Starbuck's classic Caramel Macchiato, but with hazelnut finish instead of caramel: "freshly steamed milk with vanilla syrup, marked with espresso and finished with hazelnut drizzle."  I'd say it is just a vanilla latte with some additional syrup on top, but they seem to think these things are "macchiatos".  Whatevs.

Anyway.  It has been years since I had one, but when I first was learning to drink coffee drinks, I did go for the caramel macchiatos.  I recall them as being very sweet and milky.  I expected this to be about the same.

It actually wasn't as cloyingly sweet as I was expecting.  The base seemed to have very little of the vanilla syrup, and in fact, if I hadn't read the description, I wouldn't have known it was there.  The layer of foam on top was very thick, far better than I am used to at Starbucks.  Then on top was drizzled a ton of the hazelnut syrup.  This is different from the hazelnut flavor syrup they use to just make flavored beverages, as it was far thicker, more like a hazelnut flavored caramel.  It actually tasted pretty good.

This drink surprised me.  It wasn't bad.  It wasn't too sweet, although I'd probably ask for half sweet next time.  The hazelnut flavor was really good.  I'd also probably go for soy next time, as I prefer it, and I think the hazelnut and soy combination would be a good one.

[ I had this a second time, when they were running a promotion and giving them free to Starbuck's reward members.  It again was pretty good.  I got the exact same drink, but at a different Starbuck's location.  It wasn't too sweet, and again, I didn't really notice the vanilla.  The foam was well done.  And that hazelnut caramel stuff was delicious! It really isn't what I normally go for in an espresso drink, but it is much better than any of the other cloyingly sweet warm Starbuck's drinks I've tried! ]

[ And I had it a third time, this time, with soy milk.  It was much, much sweeter, presumably because the soy milk they use is vanilla flavored and sweetened?  I did like the soy flavor much more though, I'd just be sure to get it only half-sweet if getting soy in the future.  I'm loving this hazelnut caramel sauce! ]
Tall Iced Hazelnut Macchiato, Skim, Decaf.  $3.55.
On another visit, inspired by my surprising liking of the hot version of the hazelnut macchiato, I went for the iced one, since it was a warm day.

It was fairly disappointing.  I think at some level I just don't appreciate iced espresso drinks.  It is just ice, milk poured straight out of the pitcher, a shot of espresso, and some syrup.  Not exciting.

But anyway.  Starbuck's decaf espresso just isn't very good, hot or cold.  And you could really taste it in here, before I mixed it up.  It is bitter, tastes burnt, and is just ... bad.  It doesn't seem to matter which Starbucks I visit, the decaf is just never good.  And milk is milk.  Like the hot version, it also had some vanilla syrup in it, but I didn't really taste it, and it actually wasn't very sweet.

The only part of this that I liked was that hazelnut caramel syrup.  There was a bunch that settled in the bottom of the cup, and a bunch sitting on the ice on top, and it was delicious.  The flavor is just really good.  I may or may not have licked the inside of my lid since it was covered in it.  Noms.

But overall, not a good drink, and I wouldn't get again.  Or maybe I would, I'd just ask them to "hold the milk, espresso, and ice ... just give me the hazelnut caramel!" :)
Read More...