Gary Whitehouse Review: Trader Joe’s Chocolate & Peanut Butter Joe-Joe’s Sandwich Cookies

Review by Gary Whitehouse: I’m in the habit of having something sweet with a bit of tea or coffee most evenings, an hour or two after dinner. My particular weakness has always been cookies. Of course, the best are homemade, especially if they involve chocolate, but I’m pretty much a cookie slut. As long as it’s sweet, chewy or crunchy (or better yet, a combination of both textures), and not gluten-free … I’ll eat it with gusto.

I’ve been known to enjoy Trader Joe’s regular Joe-Joe’s, especially their chocolate-peanut butter flavor. But I generally avoid them because they tend to be pretty high in fat, sugar, and therefore calories. And I find that so many of today’s store-bought treats tend to be very sweet. Very very sweet, not to put too fine a point on it. But the powers that be sent me a double pack of these goodies and wanted a review, so who am I to look a gift cookie in the mouth?

These cookies start out as naked TJ’s chocolate-peanut butter Joe-Joe’s sandwich cookies. Then they’re “enrobed” in a peanut butter coating, which is then decorated with a chocolate drizzle. True to TJ’s form, on first bite the overwhelming impression is of sweetness. Then the peanut butter flavor kicks in, and as it’s chewed, the crispy cookie layers give up their chocolate flavor. Ever since Reese’s invented the peanut butter cup, it’s been common knowledge that chocolate and peanut butter go well together, and this cookie is no exception. And, it’s kinda good? But.

It’s really sweet. And it’s not my imagination, either. Sugar is the top ingredient in the peanut butter coating, which hits your tongue first. Next is palm kernel oil, followed by “partially defatted peanut flour,” and several other things like emulsifiers. I mean, they can’t just smear actual peanut butter on the outside of a cookie, right? So it has to be a peanut butter flavored stuff that will hold its shape, not melt in the package, and not come off on your fingers when you eat it. It does that job quite well, and tastes passably peanutty, just very sweet. And a bit … gummy? Those emulsifiers give it an odd texture, if you’re paying too much attention. The crispy cookie pieces are nice and crunchy and chocolatey, and the chocolate drizzle … well, it’s mostly for decoration but I’m sure it adds a little bit of chocolate flavor to the peanut buttery exterior. Sugar’s the top ingredient in the drizzle too. It’s not the top ingredient in the chocolate cookies (that would be flour) but they contain three types of sugar, so, yeah.

The first time I tried these I had them with hot English Breakfast tea, and overall I wasn’t that impressed. Next night I tried one with coffee, and it was much better! The bitter, savory nature of the coffee cuts through both the sweetness and the emulsifiers better than tea. In fact, TJ’s on its website suggests having this cookie with coffee or milk. I’m not a milk drinker so I can’t address that, but the coffee suggestion is right on.

Going through the Nutrition Information label, they’re pretty high in fat and added sugars, at 130 calories per serving, which is one cookie. I’d be hard pressed to eat more than one at a time. You won’t gobble up this pack of eight cookies in one sitting. Good to put on a platter at a social occasion! They’re tasty and definitely satisfy your sweet tooth. I don’t think they need to be as sugary as they are, but then I’m not the one making gazillions of dollars selling high-end snacks to the bougies, so what do I know?

Gary Whitehouse (he, him), a lifelong resident of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, is a retired reporter, editor, and government communicator. He’s also a lifelong lover of books and music, which he has been writing about online for nearly a quarter of a century. His other passions include birding, standard poodles, chocolate, coffee, and craft ales.

Gary Whitehouse Review: Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Blood Orange Sunset Bar

Review By Gary Whitehouse: This bar is part of a line of Intense Dark chocolate bars from Ghirardelli. Others include Sea Salt Soiree, Raspberry Radiance, Hazelnut Heaven and Salted Caramel Cascade. This one is relatively new, having been introduced in 2019.

The bar is scored into eight squares that you can pretty easily break off for a serving, which is two squares. The chocolate is very smooth and at 86 percent cocoa has a mildly bitter flavor — mostly in the aftertaste. The initial taste is dominated by sugar, common with chocolate of this type, and it’s listed as the first ingredient, before unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter and milk fat. I assume some of the sweetness comes from the couverture.

This is a good one to let melt a bit on the tongue before chewing any. Once you do that, the sweetness fades away some, replaced by a pleasant tartness. It’s a little hard to tell how much of the tartness comes from the chocolate and how much from the bits of crystallized blood orange. Yes, it’s crystallized or candied, so it comes in little crunchy bits. Like the bar itself, those bits start with a little pop of sweetness that opens up into tartness. My favorite part is the occasional bit of orange peel, tiny grated slivers that have a delicate chewiness and a slight bitterness to them. As the sweetness and tartness fade, they’re replaced by that delicate bitterness of the chocolate, which lasts quite a while. I wouldn’t call this dark chocolate exactly intense, although the average American consumer may find it so. And I’m just a tiny bit skeptical about the provenance of the “blood” orange bits, because of the presence of beet juice as coloring listed in the ingredients. Most likely it’s used because the blood orange color fades during processing and people are going to expect some red color in the bits. Studies have shown that our perception of taste can be highly influenced by color or lack of it.

Ghirardelli is what passes for quality chocolate at the grocery or drug store. That’s not intended as a put-down. It’s pretty darn good chocolate compared to much of what you get in mass-produced chocolate products, but several steps below what I’d call premium chocolate. This bar with its crispy bits, chewy bits and pleasant blend of tart and bitter flavors, is pretty good for what it is. Decent chocolate with a fun mix of flavor and texture.

Gary Whitehouse (he, him), a lifelong resident of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, is a retired reporter, editor, and government communicator. He’s also a lifelong lover of books and music, which he has been writing about online for nearly a quarter of a century. His other passions include birding, standard poodles, chocolate, coffee, and craft ales.