Monday, April 14, 2014

Kotas Reviews the Hostess Twinkie Maker

For Christmas, I received a very unusual gift that came with the caveat that I simply MUST review it. Well my loyal reader (readers maybe? I might have more than one), that time is NOW! I was actually able to bust out the device and give it a whirl. Let's see how it all went down.

Honestly, this thing looks like a glorified sandwich maker. Not a complex piece of equipment, let me tell you. Plug it in, and it gets hot. It has a non-stick coating, which I'm sure will come in handy when I actually try and use this thing. According to, this sucker runs about $20, so it is squarely in the "impulse purchase" category. In short, it's a single purpose novelty device, and all that entails. Time to mix up some batter and see what we get!

The machine comes with a pastry bag attachment with several nozzles and an instruction manual/recipe book. In this instance I've opted to go with the "Classic Twinkie" recipe and the "Vanilla Cream Filling" recipe. There are also recipes for chocolate Twinkies, Red Velvet Twinkies, and a Marshmellow Creme based filling. The classic vanilla cream is "mostly corn syrup and other sugar, with some butter and vanilla flavoring". It ends up tasting nothing like standard Twinkie filling, but it's not bad. The cream took a bit of work to assemble, but thanks to my wife's help with the mixer, we got it prepped for the tasks ahead.

Ready for squeezin', just like a large industrial bakery used to make.
The recipe for both batter and filling says "8 servings". This is a dirty, dirty lie, as I got enough filling for 2 dozen Twinkies and ended up making 12 full size cakes and a couple of "half cakes" with the remnants of the batter. The batter seems like a pretty standard cake recipe, so I suspect you could get away with just using a box cake mix. It is pretty thick, and tastes like vanilla cake batter. I know you are all shocked. Here are the action shots, for those who are interested.

Doesn't this just SCREAM deliciousness?

Helpful light is helpful. This tells me it is "hot".
Job's Done!
The thing itself is fairly difficult to fill, if only because not only do the cake wells get hot, but that entire top piece ALSO gets blazing hot. Two adults managed to burn themselves on that while filling the wells and removing the cakes. It is also really, REALLY easy to overfill or under fill the wells, so getting it just right is as much art as science. Getting the cakes out can also prove difficult as it comes with no proper tool for removal. I had my best results with just taking a toothpick, scrunching the cake with it, then popping it out. We still had a few casualties that were unsalvagable except as "mid-creation" snacks.

The bold survivors of our extraction efforts. We salute you!
After practicing on a few of the failures, I felt confident enough to try my hand at filling the cakes. We also had a few store bought Twinkies for comparison, since that seemed like a fine thing to do.

Our Control Subject

Ready to have the holes filled! It sounded less dirty before I typed it out.

I might need a cigarette.

Control and Test subject

One of these things is not like the other...

From this side, they look a lot more alike. 

So, as you can see, the resulting snack treats are ultimately almost but not quite unlike store-bought Twinkies. I'm thinking they need a different name to differentiate them. Something with a one letter difference to show their weird knock-off status. Twankies maybe? Let's go with Twankies. Let's crack these bad boys open!

The Twankie really falls short in the "amount of creme" department.

The major problem in this batch is the creme. Since I filled the cake before it was quite cool enough, the creme sort of got absorbed into the cake without really filling it, unlike the regular Twinkie, which overflows with vanilla cream-osity. Taste wise, the Twankies aren't bad at all, tasting a lot like a sweet vanilla flavored yellow cake. The creme is a nice accent to that flavor, and overall they are something I don't mind eating. They are exactly NOTHING like a Twinkie though, so if you are looking for that store bought snack cake essence, you will find no such dark sorcery here. 

The machine is not terribly difficult to use, but it requires more precision and care than the packaging would indicate. This is certainly no "set it and forget it" sort of operation. It is also not a good product for kids. The hot parts get REALLY hot, and it is very easy to burn oneself on them, especially because of that top plate. The same could be said for a standard oven as well, though getting the cakes OUT of this thing is more burn prone than an oven. It is also kind of a bitch to clean, as the hot bits do NOT pop out of the machine for easy rinsing, so be prepared to wait for it to cool down, and then scrub it out with a damp cloth. 

On the FACE Rating System, I give the Hostess Twinkie Maker 1 smiley face, for the novelty of it, if not ease of use or safety. The Twankies it produces I give 0 faces, as they aren't bad, but they aren't particularly good either. I think with practice I could get a lot better at making and filling these things, so the theoretical future batches might be a lot better. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kotas Reviews Taco Bell's AM Crunchwrap

Good news everyone! Taco Bell has introduced a breakfast menu! At least, Taco Bell assures me this is a good thing, and in no way a culinary abomination sent to punish our digestive systems for the current healthy eating trend. I'm sure it will be fine! I freakin' LOVE breakfast food, and the more ridiculous the concept the more I want to give it a whirl. There is nothing wrong with this plan, and only good things can come of it.

Since I am trying not to completely ruin myself, I narrowed my choices to sample what is probably the second oddest offering available: The AM Crunchwrap. For the uninitiated, the Crunchwrap is a flat hard taco shell, topped with various standard Taco Bell toppings (ground beef like product, something resembling chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, etc) all wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled shut. It's not bad as far as Taco Bell goes, but can they pull off a breakfast-y version? Let's find out!

This food. Dig that malformed hexagonal shape!

This one looks like it was assembled with less care.

Well, it certainly smells like breakfast, anyway. From the outside, it is going to resemble any old boring Crunchwrap, but we know its terrible secret. BEHOLD!

The be-steaked HORROR!

The sausage edition is only slightly less horrifying to view.
I went for the steak edition, while my long suffering wife decided the sausage version was more her style. I sampled both...uh...for Science! I do suffer for my work. The steak version was probably the blandest breakfast food I've ever had in my life. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it lacked anything resembling unique and interesting taste, with one exception. The hashbrown steamed a bit inside and was less crunchy than I would have liked. The eggs were standard fast food eggs, and the steak was an almost flavorless chewing exercise. The one bright spot was some sort of Southwestern-esque sauce that had some spice (and salt) in it. Really perked up everything around it, but it was only in a small part of the thing. I tried putting some sort of salsa condiment on it, and while that did add flavor, it was only the flavor of salsa. The salsa itself wasn't bad, but I could have skipped the Crunchwrap and gotten a similar experience.

The one bite of the sausage version was infinitely better, as the sausage was nicely spiced and added some much needed salt to the egg and hashbrown. The sauce on it added a bit of kick and was actually good, as far as fast food breakfasts go. Both items were pretty filling, given it's potatoes, eggs, and meat (or "meat" if you will). I sincerely regret not getting the Waffle Taco instead of this, and hope to someday sample that creation. 

Overall, I'd give the Steak AM Crunchwrap 2 frowny faces on the FACE Rating System. The best thing I can say about it is that it did not taste bad, but only because it didn't really taste like anything and was a crushing disappointment. The Sausage Edition was much, MUCH better, earning a single smiley face, if only because it counteracted the terror of the Steak version. If you are the rare person who loves breakfast AND Taco Bell, give this a whirl...but stick to the Sausage Edition. Or the bacon one. I mean, it's bacon! How bad could it be, right?