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The Pumpkin Spicening is Upon Us

Can anybody tell me why this package of "Pumpkin Spice" Belvita biscuits has a picture of a sweet potato on it?

Anyway. I recognize that there is an entire universe of pumpkin spice products out there - certainly more than can possibly be reviewed in one short season. Therefore, please accept that this is a multi-year conquest. I may bring you only the truly notable, letting the forgettable ones fall to the wayside. (I'm looking at you, un-detectably-Pumpkin Spice Milanos.) For now, then, allow me to present three Pumpkin Spice products to which I gave some seasonal attention.

Pumpkin Spice Oreos

Ok, I have a confession to make. I’ve bought these every year for the past three years, they’ve become something of a tradition. Funny thing is, these have actually changed slightly from year to year. I recall that I enjoyed them in 2014, but in 2015 they seemed blander, lacking any spice character. I’m happy to say that for 2016, they’ve just about nailed it. The base of this cookie is the unobtrusive Golden Oreo, not the graham, for some reason, despite the fact that this is a pie flavored variety. The creme filling is the great surprise: it is an astonishingly organic-looking dark orange, exactly the color of pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potato, after you’ve blended in your brown sugar, cinnamon, and other dark spices. This is especially shocking when you consider the cookie in the illustrated image on the package, which depicts the artificial, highlighter-orange brightness that I anticipated. So the actual product is more natural and delicious-looking than advertised… when does that ever happen??

The flavor, too, is surprisingly natural and delicious. I can’t say that it tastes of pumpkin per se, but then, pumpkin itself is a fairly elusive flavor that I imagine most of us can’t really conjure. Anyway, pumpkins are squash. We don’t really need squash-flavored Oreos, when you think about it. What this does taste like is a pleasantly spiced fall dessert, with distinctive notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. It is very sweet, but not cloyingly so, because of the contrast with the spices. Tasters generally liked these, with some reminded of real pumpkin pie, and others of a Yankee Candle scented like Pumpkin Pie. One taster mused simply, “This tastes like fall.” These are delightful with a warm fall beverage, like hot tea, spiced cider, or even – dare I say it – a pumpkin spice latte, if that’s how you roll.

Hostess Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Because I am a somewhat rational human being, I figured that these would be utterly horrifying, which I was sort of looking forward to in my perverse way. And yet! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but these are actually kind of… good. Better than they have any right to be, that’s for sure.

Their outward appearance, however, leaves much to be desired, at least in the icing department. The cake itself is a spice cake that looks moist and fairly natural. The filling is the usual, pure white, sticky business with the texture of marshmallow fluff. The icing on top, however, is a thin sheet of ivory, with a bright crayon-orange squiggle. Over time, that orange coloring leeches into the ivory, discoloring it and creating a smeared, messy-looking top. So much for the myth that Hostess snack cakes can survive even nuclear war unscathed! The other problem with the top icing is that it is categorically unlike the chewy blanket on a regular Hostess cupcake – this ivory situation is brittle and slightly hard.

The pleasant surprise, however, is the taste of the cake itself. The spice cake is moist and astonishingly well balanced, with the predominant aroma and flavors of nutmeg, mace, and clove. This is one of the few “pumpkin spice” products I’ve ever had where the flavor of cinnamon was not used as an overwhelming crutch/shortcut to fall flavor. This flavor is actually far more complex than that. The cake itself, like true spice cake, is also not particularly sweet, so this contrasts perfectly with the slap of vanilla sweetness from the sticky crème filling and the top icing. There is almost a suggestion of carrot cake, only without the distracting presence of any vegetables or nuts. There is nothing about this that suggests pumpkin, necessarily, but that is no surprise (there never is). I can actually see myself reaching for these as an occasional fall snack. They are available in a box containing singly-wrapped cupcakes, rather than the snack stand two-fer pack, which is good – if you’re going to eat these, one per sitting is probably the smart move.

Pumpkin Spice Latte M&Ms: This ain’t no PSL


Now, please note that these are not pumpkin spice M&Ms – they are Pumpkin Spice LATTE M&Ms. In other words, they are conjuring that true harbinger of the season, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSL for short, as it is of course known among we suburban bourgeois.) I love that the bag even pictures the snooty lady M&M looking somewhat scornfully at you through her hipster glasses, one eyebrow perfectly arched as she hands you the cup.

These are colored ivory, dark brown, and orange – for the milk, the coffee, and the “pumpkin,” you know. They are built on the standard milk chocolate M&M base, so the flavor is primarily that of milk chocolate, with additional notes of coffee and generic fall spices. These are perfectly pleasant, and had the flavor been named “Cinnamon Mocha,” it would have been spot on. But are they suggestive of a pumpkin spice latte? Not really. Not that an actual Starbucks PSL tastes of real pumpkin either, so in that sense, this lack of pumpkin is accurate. But the use of milk chocolate instead of white for this application ensures that the flavor will conjure chocolatey mocha, not creamy latte. This was a miscalculation on their part, because if any flavor called for a white chocolate base, I should think it would be this one, because a latte is primarily milk. Now, personally, I will order a mocha over a PSL or any other latte any day of the week, and the addition of the fall spices is subtle and pleasant, so I’ll take these, but a PSL they are not.

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