Friday, November 11, 2016

belVita Breakfast Biscuits

I'm always on the lookout for tasty, easy, grab and go breakfasts.  Most days I get fabulous breakfasts at work, but when I'm travelling, or sometimes on weekends before heading to brunch, I just want something easy.

When I was in college I lived on Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars, strawberry or apple cinnamon.  I think they are totally nasty now, I'm not sure why I was so into them then.  But I loved them.  I've also tried all sorts of other breakfast bars, many better than the Nutri-Grains, but none that I really want more of.  The "easy to grab breakfast bar that I like" slot has remained unfilled for a while.

I stumbled upon belVita while reading some reviews for something else.  Their products sounded intriguing: breakfast ... biscuits?  They proclaim to be "found in the cookie-cracker aisle".  Cookies, for breakfast?  Reviewers love them.  They are marketed as being a decent choice nutritionally, with a good amount of protein, whole grains, and not too much sugar.  Formulated to slowly release energy all morning long.  But, they are cookies (uh, biscuits), not bars made up of weird chemicals and soy protein isolate.  And they come in a variety of flavors: blueberry, apple cinnamon, cinnamon brown sugar, golden oat, and chocolate.

I had to seek these out, and I am quite glad I did.  They quickly turned into my favorite on-the-go breakfast item, and it seems I am not alone, as their product offerings expanded considerably since I first encountered them (and wrote this original post).

In the US, they now have four product lines, all featuring the breakfast biscuits, but in different styles: crunchy, soft, bite size, or even as sandwiches, with peanut butter or chocolate cream filling.  Yes, still considered healthy breakfast.

Internationally, they have also taken off, and I've found their products while traveling in the UK and in Australia.  Just like in the US, you can find them in nearly every convenience store, making for a very easy-to-grab breakfast on the go, precisely as marketed.

US Edition

Breakfast Biscuits / Crunch

When belVita was introduced to the US, they had only one product line: breakfast biscuits.  Now they have several, so the basic biscuits are now branded "belVita crunch", and they come in five flavors: golden oat, blueberry, apple cinnamon, cinnamon brown sugar, and chocolate (er, in 2015 the apple cinnamon was replaced by cranberry orange).  I never found the chocolate ones, but I tried the other varieties.  All come 4 to a package.
Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits.
"Our Blueberry crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are lightly sweet, crunchy biscuits made with high-quality and wholesome ingredients, like rolled oats and real blueberries."

For my first venture into belVita, I picked the blueberry flavor.  This somehow seemed the most breakfast-like.  I opened my package, not quite sure what to expect.  What was a breakfast biscuit, anyway?  The answer ... basically, a cookie.  But, in muffin flavors.  Thin, crispy-style.  Sorta a cross between a cookie and biscotti.  Normally, I really dislike crisp cookies and prefer soft ones, but in this case, it worked.

I've never had a blueberry cookie before though.  The blueberries made it "breakfast", but seemed strange in concept to have in a cookie.  The blueberries, while small dried bits, were incredibly flavorful.  I was shocked by the flavor.  They did indeed remind me a blueberry muffin!

Overall the  biscuits were sweet, but not too sweet.  And they went really well dunked in my cappuccino, just like a biscotti, since they were so thin and crispy.

Definitely an interesting product, and I'd have them again.

I gave Ojan a packet of these to try, since I know he likes blueberry muffins.  I had talked them up at this point, so I was worried I was over-selling.  He took a bite, and exclaimed, "That does taste like a blueberry muffin!"  He joyfully ate the whole package.  And then ordered another box.

Update: I've since had these plenty more times. I continue to love them. Seriously, cookie-biscotti-muffins!  The blueberry flavor is really incredible, and I stress, they go sooo perfectly dunked into a cappuccino   Love, love love these things.  And not just because I get to eat cookies for breakfast, although that is obviously a selling point!
Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Biscuits.
"Apple Cinnamon crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are baked with real cinnamon and the delicious taste of apples, making them the perfect way to start the morning right."

Given the success of the blueberry flavor, I finally decided to branch out and try another.  I wanted to try the cinnamon brown sugar, but I couldn't find them at any of my local stores.  So, I settled for my third choice, apple cinnamon.

Unlike the blueberry, there were not large chunks of fruit visible in the cookie. The aroma however, was clearly apple and cinnamon.  They smelt amazing!

The style was quite similar to the blueberry, a crispy cookie.  The flavor wasn't quite as intense as the blueberry, but there were little chunks of dried apple that added fun chew to a few bites, and the cinnamon was quite strong.  As a plain biscuit, I felt these were a bit lacking, but once I dunked them into my coffee, I again loved them.  Just like a biscotti, they soften up when dunked, and create such a great pairing.

I think they probably would be quite good covered in peanut butter as well, in the same way that I love apple slices covered in peanut butter.  I'll try that with my next package.

Overall, still a success, although I liked the blueberry more.

Update: I've continued to really enjoy these, dunked into coffee.  Or tea.  The apple cinnamon goes slightly better with a cup of tea than coffee.  The dunking is key, as it softens up the cookie a bit.  They are great for breakfast, but also perfect for afternoon snack.
Golden Oat.
"Golden Oat crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are simple, crunchy biscuits made from wholesome, fine ingredients like rolled oats."

I wanted to try even more flavors, but alas, the cinnamon brown sugar that I really want to try has remained elusive, and chocolate, while obviously something I like, just didn't sound that interesting.  So, I went for the very basic: golden oat.  It sounded the simplest, and least likely to succeed, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.

And, I'm glad I did.  Yes, they were simple, more like a plain graham cracker.  Well, a sweetened graham cracker.  Same crispy texture as the others.  Still not great if you just eat them plain, but magically transformed when dunked into coffee.

Since they were so plain, I also tried topping them with peanut butter and jelly, but that just masked their yummy flavor, and they weren't exactly dunkable like that.

Golden Oat was my least favorite flavor, but I still enjoyed them, and would gladly dunk some more.

Soft Baked

Just when I thought I couldn't love belVita more, they introduced a new product line, in addition to the already existing biscuits: soft baked breakfast cookies!  The moment I heard about them, I eagerly sought them out.  Available in five flavors: cinnamon, banana bread, oats & chocolate, banana peanut butter, and mixed berry with blueberries and raspberries.  I wasn't able to find the mixed berry anywhere, which is actually the variety I wanted to try, since it sounded most like a muffin, and like the delicious blueberry crunch biscuits.
Soft Baked Oats & Chocolate.
"Our belVita Soft Baked Oats & Chocolate Breakfast Biscuits are not only a tasty morning treat, they’re also a nutritious way to start your day. Made with ingredients like rolled oats, rye and barley, we think we finally found a way to sneak chocolate into a wholesome breakfast!"

I brewed up a cup of coffee to pair with my treat, and excitedly opened my package.  I was expecting something sorta like a flat muffin perhaps, just based on the hard breakfast cookies, and the title soft baked.  I was a little disappointed when I opened the package.  It was soft compared to the regular breakfast biscuits yes, but it wasn't anything like a muffin.  And, as you can see, it had exactly three little bits of chocolate.  Upon closer examination, I saw that each of the three spots had 2-3 tiny chocolate chips.  But there weren't chips anywhere else in the bar.  Hmm.

Still, I knew the hard biscuits weren't much to look at either, so I still dug in.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was basically a strangely shaped oatmeal cookie.  belVita did it again, serving me yet another cookie, and calling it breakfast.  If you like oatmeal cookies, you'll like this.  It also did taste sorta healthy.  Very hearty from all the oats and rye flakes.  They were sweetened, but in a way that didn't taste fake or too much, just a deep flavor from the molasses.  The bits of chocolate were a nice addition, and they were a quality semi-sweet chocolate, but honestly, just the oatmeal base would have been fine.

I'd really like to try these in just about any other flavor.  I think all of the flavors that they make the original breakfast biscuits in would work.  And that elusive mixed berry ... I must find it!

Highly recommend, for breakfast, or, even for a snack.  Pairs great with coffee.

UK & Australia Edition

Breakfast Biscuits

The UK and Australian product line also includes the hard style biscuits, but the flavors offered are different: chocolate, fruit & fibre (with figs), cranberry, honey & oat, crunchy oats, and milk & cereals.
Milk & Cereals.
"Biscuits made with wholegrain cereals, milk and added vitamins minerals."

It had been a while since I had belVita in the US when I had a package in London.  They also came 4 to a package, but I swear these were a different size, they seemed longer, and perhaps thinner?

I was intrigued by this flavor description.  How do you represent milk and cereal in a biscuit?  I figured they would be similar to the Golden Oat US variety, fairly plain.  The "cereals" used are wheat, oat, buckwheat, barley, rye, and spelt based, and there is both whole and skim milk powder as well.  And yes, indeed they add extra minerals, like magnesium and iron.

It is hard to describe what these tasted like.  They were slightly sweet.  Slightly buttery, although they don't include butter.  Again like a cookie, and crispy.  But there was a subtle nuttiness to them, which must have come from some combination of the grains in the cereal.

I anticipated that I'd want to slather them in peanut butter, but I found it unnecessary; the flavor was good enough on its own.  Like the american versions, they were also delicious when dunked into a foamy cappuccino.

I'm still a bit stumped by the entire concept of breakfast biscuits, but I love them every time!

Duo Crunch / Yogurt Crunch

The Duo Crunch / Yogurt Crunch line has not yet made it to the US, but in the UK and Australia, they make breakfast biscuits with a yogurt and fruit filling, almost like the sandwich cookies available in the US, but with healthier sounding fillings (the US breakfast sandwich cookies come with chocolate cream or peanut butter, not yogurt).

BelVita has long suggested pairing your breakfast cookies with yogurt and fruit, so, it only seems natural that they'd try to bake it all in to one easy to grab package.
 Strawberry & Live Yogurt.
"Biscuits Made with Wholegrain Cereals with a Live Yogurt Filling (13.5%) and a Strawberry Filling (13.5%) and Added Vitamins and Minerals."

Each package came with two sandwiches, so, 4 biscuits total.

The biscuits were the same standard BelVita biscuits, crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly healthy tasting, sorta like a graham cracker that doesn't crumble as easily.  A good base, but fairly plain.
Strawberry & Live Yogurt: Inside.
Inside was two lines of "live yogurt filling" and a line of strawberry filling.  Both were ... fine.  The yogurt was certainly sweetened and tasted a bit like the standard creme filling you'd find inside a sandwich cookie.  The strawberry was sweet goo, sorta identifiable as strawberry I guess.

Overall, these were perfectly fine, and went great dunked into a coffee, but they weren't nearly as exciting as I somehow thought they would be.  The fillings just didn't add much to the base product.
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Thursday, November 10, 2016

SusieCakes

Update Review, November 2016

I've encountered SusieCakes several times before.  I wasn't ever impressed with their basic cupcakes, but I did find their sugar cookies to be above average, and their fancy cakes had promise.  So I was happy to try more of their products when we had them for an event.
Election Day Assortment.
For election day, our office got voting themed cookies and cupcakes.  I was a bit disappointed by the assortment, since I don't ever really like cookies and  didn't like their cupcakes before, but I still eagerly dove in.

We had one type of cookie (iced sugar cookie) and 4 types of cupcakes: red velvet, chocolate, vanilla, and flourless chocolate.  The flourless chocolate turned out to be amazing.
Frosted Sugar Cookie.  $3.25.
"Thin, buttery and tender cookies with decorative royal icing."

The cookies were simple sugar cookies coated in icing, the same as I had before, just a different themed shape this time.  Sweet cookie, sweet icing, fairly classic.  Nothing earth shattering, but actually a pretty good sugar cookie.
Red Velvet Cupcake.
"Deep red, moist cake lightly flavored with cocoa, topped with traditional cream cheese frosting. "

The red velvet cupcake was, well, a standard red velvet cupcake.  Moist enough cake, although fairly plain tasting.  It had a slight red velvet tang from what I imagine was buttermilk, but it wasn't particularly strong.

The cream cheese frosting was great though, very cream-cheesy, and there was plenty of it.

Overall, a solid, but standard, cupcake, and since I'm not a big cupcake lover, it was just kinda ok.
Red Velvet (May 2017).
I had another red velvet a few months later, and was even less impressed.  There was no tang or interest to the cake (although, it was moist).  The frosting, while it tasted like cream cheese, also wasn't great.  Everything about this was highly mediocre.

The decorations, for Easter, were cute though.
Flourless Chocolate Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream.
The flourless chocolate cupcake however was glorious.

The cake was a rich, dense, very chocolatey cake, more like a brownie than a moist cake, which makes sense, since it was flowerless.  The top was slightly crispy, just as I like.

The frosting was just sweet vanilla buttercream, but it complimented the rich cake very well.  And there was plenty of it.

Overall, a fantastic cupcake, and I'd gladly eat a dozen myself.

Original Review, January 2015

SusieCakes is, you guessed it, a cake shop, or more accurately, a chain of cake shops, located throughout both Northern and Southern California.  They are known for their speciality and custom layer cakes, including "Susie's Famous Southern Red Velvet", but they also make cupcakes, cheesecake, puddings, pies, brownies, and cookies.  When you enter the shop, it is hard to look past the cakes though, as most are 4-6 layers, quite impressive looking.

The San Francisco location is located in the Marina, right on Chestnut Street.  Service is always fairly friendly, and they generally have a sample of one of their specialty cakes out on the counter, which I of course love.  The cakes I've tried have all been quite tasty, and I like their cookies, but the cupcakes I didn't like.

I'd love to return though to try their pudding, since I love puddings, and theirs come complete with whipped cream.  I also just saw whoopie pies on the menu, which always bring back nostalgia for me.  And, if I were ever ordering a full cake, I'd definitely consider SusieCakes, since, as I said, I've liked the cakes.

Cookies

Pumpkin Halloween Sugar Cookie.  $3.25.
"Thin buttery and tender cookies with decorative royal icing."

I'm not generally one to gravitate towards cookies, but a co-worker brought in assorted decorated cookies for Halloween, and they were too cute not to try.  Plus, look at at the icing!

It was a very classic sugar cookie.  Nice and soft, not hard and crisp like they sometimes can be.  There was shiny, sweet icing on top, a bit crunchy, but I liked that.  Sprinkles ... for fun and more sugar.

It was a cute shape, nicely decorated, and was quite tasty for such a simple cookie.  I'd eat another (and in fact, went back and had a ghost shaped one later, which was just as tasty).  I've seen adorable turkey cookies for Thanksgiving too, so they clearly have fun with seasonal shapes.

It was a large cookie, but $3.25 for such a basic cookie did seem steep, although I guess the decorating time is really what you pay for.

Cupcakes

Mini Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting.  $20/dozen.
Another day, someone brought in mini cupcakes from SusieCakes.  Again, not my favorite dessert item, but, how do I resist trying a dessert?

I love frosting, but there was just way too much of it on this cupcake.  It was just sweet, I didn't taste any vanilla, and didn't have a great mouthfeel.  It tasted like ... butter.  Just butter.  Ok, sweet butter.  The cake itself was somewhere in-between moist and dry, just kinda there.  It also didn't have any flavor.

I did not like this at all.
Mini Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting.  $20/dozen.
I was so disappointed by the vanilla, that I also tried the chocolate version.

It was better than the vanilla, but only slightly.  Again, the cake was somewhere in-between moist and dry, just kinda there, but at least it had decent chocolate flavor.  The frosting was also better, again it had a decent chocolate level, so there was something to it.

But overall, not a winner, and I wouldn't get again.

Cakes

[ No Photo ]
Tropical Coconut Cake. $6.25/slice.

“Vanilla cake layered with pineapple accented coconut filling & topped with fluffy coconut buttercream and shredded coconut”.

This was actually pretty good, and I bought a slice after trying the sample.  So enticing!

The cake was moist and fruity from the pineapple and coconut filling.  There was perhaps too much shredded coconut on top, so it somewhat overwhelmed.  The buttercream was also quite good, which makes me think that something may have just gone wrong with the batch I had on the vanilla cupcake?  I'm not sure how it could be so good on the cake, and so very bad on the cupcake.

The price for this was rather high though, $6.25 for a single slice.  Full sized round cakes are also available, $36 for 6", or $49 for 9", or you can go the sheet cake route, $215 for a full sheet, $110 for half, or $75 for a quarter.

[ No Photo ]
Vanilla Celebration Cake. $49 / 9 inch round.

"6-layers of vanilla cake baked with colorful sugar confetti, filled & frosted with our signature retro-blue vanilla frosting."

To celebrate a co-worker's birthday, a co-worker brought in the aptly named "Celebration Cake".  It was a beautiful, 6 layer high creation.  I somehow lost my photo, but, it really was stunning to see, particularly when sliced so you could see the confetti throughout the base cake.

The cake itself was just a vanilla cake, although studded with the pops of color.  It was just basic cake, not too dry, not too moist, not very exciting.  The frosting was a cool minty-blue color, so I thought it was flavored, but alas, it was just flavored sweet.  It was creamy, good enough frosting, but still, just plain sweet frosting.

This cake wasn't bad, but it was far more exciting looking than it tasted.  Festive, but boring.
SusieCakes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Cinnamon Sugar Knots

Yes, I love to take leftovers and stick them in my waffle iron.  If you've missed all my previous posts, check out my master post on waffling leftovers first, and then come read this, so you know what you are getting into.

By now, you should be familiar with the concept.  It is simple really.  Take a random leftover, stick it, generally unmodified, into a waffle iron, wait a few minutes, and consume the results.  This story is no different.

This waffling adventure was inspired by my previous successes of waffling sticky buns and glazed donuts, as I had something that was basically a cross between the two: a cinnamon sugar knot.  The knot was a cinnamon and sugar coated buttery roll made from pizza dough, shaped in a knot.  It was a no brainer to waffle it.

So, the important question: Cinnamon sugar knots: Will it waffle?  A: Of course, and it basically turns into a Liège waffle, crazy caramelized on the outside.
The Original: Cinnamon Sugar Knot.
The original was a cinnamon sugar knot from Ramuntos, a local pizza joint in my hometown.  By now, you know that I prefer waffled leftover pizza to regular pizza, so it should come as no surprise that I'd want to throw other pizza leftovers into the waffle iron too.  In this case though, I wanted to waffle the knot.

Ramunto's makes incredible savory garlic and romano cheese knots (which I'm sure would waffle great too), but I had my eye set on the sweet versions, pizza dough folded into a knot, drenched in butter, and rolled in a very generous amount of cinnamon and sugar.

When fresh, they are delicious, so buttery and sweet, and served warm.
Leftover Cinnamon Sugar Knots.
The shelf life of the knots isn't so great though.  I had one the next day, and tried it both cold and warmed up in the toaster oven, and it had lost much of the appeal.  It was kinda dry and stale tasting.

Still, I couldn't let all that amazing butter and sugar go to waste.  Plus, given my experience with the glazed donuts, I had a pretty good idea that the butter and sugar crust would easily turn into caramelized magic once waffled.
Waffled Cinnamon Sugar Knots!
This was a very simple item to waffle.  I pre-heated the iron to 350 degrees, stuck the full cinnamon knot in, and mushed down the lid.  No other prep necessary.

A few minutes later, I checked on it, and it was ready.  Some of the sugar did turn into a thin caramel sauce in the waffle grill, but it didn't actually make a mess, and I was easily able to extract it as it cooled slightly.

The knot basically turned into a Liège waffle, as I hoped.  It worked even better than I had imagined.  The outside was very crisp and caramelized, the inside stayed doughy.  It did still taste a little stale, but, that wasn't the waffle iron's fault, I started with a rather stale item in the first place.  Definitely an improvement over the leftover version, but the original was still superior.  I wonder if waffling a fresh one would be good?
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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Travelin' Tuesday: Munich

The past few weeks have highlighted my discoveries in the city of Munich, Germany, ranging from restaurants and beer gardens, to fast food, to packaged products.

This post is your overview, for quick reference.

Hotel / Airline

Restaurants

Snacks

Ice Cream

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