Archive for: trader joe’s
Trader Joe’s has put out quite a few baking mixes over the years, mixes with all natural ingredients and a very low price tag that makes them pretty appealing, even for “scratch” bakers. I’ve had mixed results from a few mixes, and very good results from others, and that is enough to keep me curious when I see that they’ve added a new product to their lineup.
Trader Joe’s Blondie Bar Baking Mix is a mix for blondies – bar cookies that have a flavor similar to a chocolate chip cookie and a chewy texture that is more like that of a brownie. The ingredient list reads like something you’d make at home: flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, molasses, oil and chocolate chips. Of course, you add in your own butter and egg to the mix to moisten it before baking. The finished blondies look a lot like the bars you’d make from scratch, although they just a bit cakier than I usually make my blondies. They have a nice brown sugar cookie flavor and plenty of chocolate chips. The only changes that I would make would be to add a splash of vanilla in with the rest of the ingredients to round out the flavors a bit. It doesn’t seem like there are too many mixes for blondies out there, so I like the fact that this mix offers something a little different. It’s also nice that the box includes suggestions for a few other mix-ins to change this mix up and make it easy to put twists on it if it becomes a regular feature in your baking.
Brownie mixes are a convenient thing to keep in the back of your pantry when you need a quick brownie fix. What could be easier than a mix, where you just add a few ingredients and stir? The answer is a mix that you don’t need to add anything to. I spotted these Trader Joe’s Ready to Bake Brownies on a recent shopping trip. The mix already has eggs and oil incorporated into it, so you simply pour it straight into the pan and bake in a preheated oven. Foolproof.
I picked this up because I was curious as to how it would stand up to a regular brownie mix, especially since I’ve gotten pretty good results from other Trader Joe’s mixes. I was concerned that, since the mix had flour already incorporated into it, it might end up being a little tough. This concern wasn’t entirely unfounded, as these brownies turned out to be a slightly spongier and less tender than even most brownie mixes are. They still had a good chocolate flavor and were very moist, but it would have been nicer if they were a bit more tender and fudgy. Homemade brownies are going to give you a better texture and more flavor every time, especially when they’re made with real butter and melted chocolate.
That said, the only thing easier than this is buying a package of brownies that are already baked – and you don’t get the smell of freshly baked brownies in your kitchen when you buy them already baked. They also freeze well, so these are actually pretty good for using to make a batch of brownie ice cream sandwiches, and they can also be chopped up an incorporated into a batch of ice cream for a brownie-sundae.
When it comes to apple pie, I firmly believe that you can’t beat a made-from-scratch pie. It’s fun to make and shape the crusts and you have total control of how sweet or tart your filling will be. The option of opening a can of prepackaged pie filling and pouring it into a frozen pie shell is not necessarily a bad one, however. I know that doing this allows you to fill your kitchen with the smell of freshly baked apple pie while saving some valuable holiday time for doing other things. Plus, there are some good options out there for both premade pie crusts and pie fillings. Trader Joe’s Apple Pie Filling is a new offering from TJ’s, introduced just for the holiday pie-baking season. The large jar holds 32 ounces, which should be enough for a generously filled apple pie, and it is made with the same all natural ingredients that you would probably put into your pie filling anyway.
The filling tastes like, well, the filling of an apple pie! It has a good, fresh apple flavor and a mild mix of spices, so it actually reminds me a lot of apple cider. It has a good consistency, with plenty of large apple slices, so you won’t confuse it with chunky apple sauce even though it looks very similar while still in the jar. The apple slices are very tender and the filling surrounding them is smooth and sweet.
Since I like my apple pies on the chunkier side, I probably will not be replacing my homemade fillings with this one when I’m making a full sized pie. If I did, I might chop up one fresh apple into thin slices and add it in for a little extra texture. I would definitely use it (and already have!) to fill up single serving pies baked in muffin tins or in my mini pie maker, as those smaller pies require fillings to be precooked anyway. You can also use this as the base for an easy apple crisp or heat it up on the stovetop and serve it with vanilla ice cream.
Trader Joe’s frequently rotates their inventory, dropping products that aren’t particularly popular with consumers and replacing them with new and different things. Lately, their baking line has been getting a little bit bigger and one of the newest introductions is Baker Josef’s Elegant Cocoa Pearls. These tiny cocoa and off white pearls are small sprinkles that are intended to give home bakers a natural option to finish off their baked goods with a more festive look. They look chocolate and they look very “gourmet” when they’re adorning a cake.
The Cocoa Pearls may look like sprinkles, but they are a little more substantial than your average bit of waxed sugar. At the center of each of these balls is a piece of puffed rice or puffed corn cereal. This gives them a little crunch and a lot of lightness, much moreso than you would get from little balls of chocolate alone. It also means that there is something very reminiscent of a bowl of cereal to them if you decide to eat a handful on their own. Once they’re sprinkled onto a cupcake, however, any trace of cereal is lost and you’re left with crispy, slightly sweet Pearls that visually dress up the cake and add a pleasant crunch at the same time. I’m not going to be snacking on these alone, but a couple of jars have already found a home in my pantry and will be put to good use decorating cakes!
I love to bake cakes from scratch, but I am often curious about cake mixes put out by more gourmet retailers to see how they stack up to the real thing. A good example was the expensive, but outstanding, Ad Hoc Yellow Cake Mix. Trader Joe’s ever-expanding line of baking products includes cake mixes, as well as convenient frosting mixes, so I wanted to see how Baker Josef’s Golden Yellow Cake Mix stacked up.
There is a lot to like about this cake mix. It is made with all natural ingredients and contains unbleached flour, dried cane syrup (i.e. raw sugar) and buttermilk as a flavoring. Nothing that you can’t pronounce. You add eggs, water and oil or butter, mix and bake. Most cake mixes are designed to give you almost fool proof results, and this one is no exception with its very simple directions. It turned out a cake with a slightly buttery flavor and a tender, somewhat crumbly, crumb. It turned out to have a much better flavor and texture when made with butter than with oil, even though oil was suggested as an alternative to butter on the box.
Unfortunately, I can’t help comparing it to the Ad Hoc yellow cake mix – which really did produce an excellent cake, mix or not – and I have to admit that it is not nearly as good as that one even though they have similarly “gourmet” ingredient lists. That said, it is also a fraction of the price. Taking all this into account, I would definitely consider keeping a box of this mix in the back of the pantry if you like to have a cake mix on hand for those times when you’re not going to make your own from scratch. It is minimally processed, with recognizable ingredients and is easy to make on top of it. I’ll also take a homemade yellow cake over this one, but if you put a nice layer of chocolate frosting on top I wouldn’t complain about eating a slice!
Update: Based on some reader comments, I went back and tried this mix again. I would say that the cake seemed much more crumbly and somewhat more coarse than the first time I tried it. The flavor wasn’t too bad, but it did make me wonder if they had changed the formulation. I’m keeping the original review up, but I don’t think I would recommend this mix at this time! Let’s hope TJ’s gives their formula a tweak and improves the texture of the cake, bringing it up to the standards of the rest of their products.