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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let's repeat that again, and let it sink in. Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let the wild drooling rumpus begin!

There's very few word trios that hold that kinda sway over me. Maybe "pizza/ wings/ beer" or "baseball/ boxseats/ beer" or maybe, from the looks of things, just "yada/ yada/beer." How can these be bad? And how could I have held strong, and walked past these shopping trip after shopping trip, and never give into temptation like I have been so tempted to before?

As it turns out...I could have waited and not missed much. I'm shocked at those words I just typed. But it's the truth. Let's analyze this. It's not the fault of the cookies, in this case meaning the twin hazelnut shortbread discs on either side of the chocolate filling. Oh no. Those are ab-sah-freakin'-lutely delish. Soft, crumbly, sugary, nutty, melty-in-your-mouthy...if it were a simply a box full of simply those, despite any restraint I am trying to cultivate within me, these would have been demolished within seconds, and Sandy and I probably would have inadvertently ruthlessly bloodied  each other as we fought each other off for every last little crumb. That would have been awkward to explain at the forthcoming family Christmas gatherings. But much like these similarly flawed shortbread-inspired snacks, there's a certain something that otherwise holds them back from being all they can be. This time, it's the middle.

Perhaps it's not really all that fair, but when I see the words "chocolate" and "hazelnut" together, my mind kind melds them into one word that stands above most others in this world: Nutella. Nutella's the standard, and despite several noble attempts to duplicate its success, well, you just can't. Coming close and falling short is okay, but to miss it completely, like the choco-nutty filling of these guys do, well, that's unacceptable. Them's the rules. It's not really the flavor itself, though it's not quite rich enough to really stand out from the rest of the cookie. It's the texture. I'm not sure if it's tough or kinda chewy or just plain hard, but to when your teeth sink right thru the wafer and strike upon the middle, it's a rude awakening, like digging through soft soil only to run into some hard clay. It's certainly not the "creamy" the package purports it to be, probably in an effort to fool you into thinking there's a reasonable Nutella knockoff dwelling inside. Not a fan.

Overall, the cookies would be better off either a) skipping the chocolate filling altogether 2) packaging a little jar of spread inside, separate from the cookies, in order to spread your own on or d) with you scraping off the spread then dipping them into Nutella. For me, this makes three not-so-glowing cookie reviews in a row...I'm beginning to question if I like cookies as much as I think I do...I might finally have to cave in and try the cookie butter to see what all you kids have been raving about for months on end. Sandy's not so huge on them either, for all the same reasons. We're waffling between a 3 and 3.5 each, when really, I wish we were talking another holiday pantheon candidate. Sigh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse are a traditional German treat. The name literally translates to "pepper nuts," but they're really a kind of gingerbread-ish cookie. They've got some unique spices and they're sweet, soft, and covered in a layer of powdered sugar.

Once again, we find a perfect instance for the Trader Joe's company to use one of their ethnic names - we encountered Baker Josef last year, and he was pretty good at what he did. Though "Josef" might be from any number of European nations, Deutschland is certainly among those he might be hailing from. When I studied German in school, the name I chose for myself was "Jörg." Although "Josef" is a better translation of "Joe," I think "Trader Jörg's Pfeffernüsse" has a nice ring to it.

On the box, there's mention of a German tradition in which pfeffernüsse are dipped in wine when served to guests during winter holiday parties. After trying the cookies, both Sonia and I thought that sounded revolting, so we had them with milk instead. However, in the days following, out of curiosity I looked up which wines might pair with something like these cookies. The sites I found mentioned some dessert wines, such as a Riesling, which made some sense, as well as Pinot Noir, which fascinated me thoroughly. How could gingerbread go with a flinty red wine?

I found an excuse to pick up a bottle shortly thereafter and immediately dipped one of the "pepper nuts" into my Napa Valley Pinot Noir Wine Glass as one might dunk an Oreo into cold milk. I was amazed. It was delicious - and very unique. It was at once dessert-ish, earthy, and spicy. I highly recommend the combo. Some of you lucky enough to live near a TJ's that sells wines might be able to pick up some Two (or Three) Buck Chuck Pinot Noir. I tried it back in my California days, and was pleasantly surprised, not that I'm any kind of connoisseur. In case you were wondering, we've only done one wine review on this blog, thanks to PA's archaic alcohol laws.

By themselves, these cookies are tasty enough. If you like particularly spicy gingerbread, you'll probably enjoy these little German treats. Of course, in this case, when I say "spicy," I don't mean hot in any way. I mean they're full of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. And technically, I guess they're not really gingerbread—they just remind me of it.

My wife gives these pfeffernüsse 4 out of 5 stars. I'd give 'em a 4, too—if they came with a mini bottle of Pinot Noir. 3.5 stars as they are.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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