It’s been too long since I’ve ventured into Reviews of Some Maybe Gross Things I Bought at the Grocery Store. But nothing says “maybe gross” like “Trader Joe’s kona coffee creamy half-dipped shortbread cookies,” and hey, look what I’ve got.
Seeing as how I am probably the internet’s leading expert in what makes something Maybe Gross, allow me to break this down further for you. First, the most cut-and-dried terms:
“Trader Joe’s” – is a phrase that should immediately signal to you that the product you’re about to consume May, indeed, Be Gross. But we’ve talked about this.
“Kona Coffee” – This is fine. In general, coffee can probably only be a good thing. I suspect Joe will make me rue saying this in the future.
“Cookies” – while the word denotes good things, there is a complicating factor here: the fact that we’re reading it from a box. While I don’t personally know any people that are such bad bakers that I’d hesitate to accept offers of cookies from them, I have met plenty of boxes I’ve regretted accepting cookies from.
When it comes to Trader Joe’s cookies specifically, there are some that I will happily eat (caramel cashew, triple ginger, candy cane joe-joes), some that I will sometimes happily eat (maple leaf sandwiches, which are tooth-achingly sweet, but reassuring in the right context), a lot that I tried and threw out and will never eat again (chocolate hazelnut, vanilla meringues), and many that you will never get me to eat even once (kettle corn, “chocolatey cats cookies”).
But let’s move on to the words on this box that are potentially more troubling.
“Shortbread” – Man, do I love shortbread. Shortbread is one of the world’s most perfect foods. Of course, a strongly-felt opinion like this of any food often leads to disappointment when faced with a packaged version of said food. But actually, these cookies are pretty OK. And look, I really don’t want to say that about a shortbread that somehow contains precisely no butter. (How, why.†) But shortbread and coffee are so nice together, and these are maybe not shortbread exactly, but they’re not so far off, and they somehow taste pretty good despite their disturbing lack. They’re awfully crumbly—in the shortbread world, they’re not alone in this, but it does present an issue that we’ll get to in a minute.
For now, let’s take a closer look.
Normally, I do try to neaten things up a little for pictures. But, as you should have noted by now, there are crumbs everywhere in these photos. For one (actually two) thing(s), they are legion, and they are unwrangleable. For another, I decided the crumbs are in fact such a part of the experience that it would be dishonest to exclude them.
So, there’s only one thing left here to tackle:
“Creamy half-dipped” – Oh, fuck me. There it is. Chills ran down my spine as I picked this up from the shelf and tried to wrap my head around this. I couldn’t resist, despite (or OK, maybe owing to) the fact that what immediately resounded in my skull in a native, free-associative sorta way, was: “spunk bath.”
To go against type a bit, I’m just going to let that sit there. By the by, how do you expect something to taste that was originally going to be white chocolate, until that proved to be too expensive and was replaced by a substance that Legal decided could only be labeled “creamy”? I mean. Joe, it’s fine. We all know cocoa butter is pricy stuff. I’m just not sure “creamy half-dip” was the best descriptor you could’ve come up with.
Not surprisingly, this creamy half-dip is the cookie’s downfall. It’s cloying and gratuitous and just a touch plasticky.
So, about that crumbliness. Do you see the not-altogether-appetizing tray imprint in that creamy half-dip? These cookies rest creamy half-dip side down in their tray, and at least in my box, they are basically glued in place by it. Perhaps my box was just not stored at the correct temperature, but whether intentional or not, I guess it would have the happy consequence of keeping the cookies from banging around and crumbling in transit. It did not, however, keep them from crumbling between my fingers every time I tried to loosen one from its creamy-half-dip-and-plastic shackles.
I’d say that despite my best efforts at caution, I’ve already lost 2 cookies’ worth of crumbs to the bottom of the tray and my kitchen counter and floor. And of course, it’s not the creamy half-dipped portion that’s crumbling to dust—it’s the decent part.
So I can’t really recommend these, unless you’re a fan of fakey icing. I’m not judging.
But while we’re on the topic of shortbready things and coffee, I do have a recipe to share.
† NB: it’s been brought to my attention that these do contain butter, which I apparently missed despite scanning the ingredients for it multiple times, because I’m a smart person. Read the comments below for more info on Buttergate!
This is adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe, which she called “Caramel Crunch Bars” and which I found somewhere on some blog several years ago. I can’t really call it that, as you’ll see:
1 ½ cups AP flour
1-2 tsp. instant espresso powder or finely ground coffee
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup salted butter, at room temp
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 oz. very dark chocolate, finely chopped
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
In a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together for a few minutes. (Generally speaking, if you’re not beating the hell out of this mix when you start any recipe that starts this way, you’re doing it wrong.)
Dump in the dry ingredients and mix on low until just incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and mix on low (or remove the bowl and fold it in by hand with a spatula).
Here, the original recipe has you pat this into a pan and bake it and top it with a bunch more chocolate and toffee bits or whatever.
Here’s what you should do instead: eat what you’ve made with a spoon. Because baking and topping this mix makes it appreciably worse in every possible way—but this is hands-down some of the finest cookie dough you’ll ever encounter. No joke.