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Munchie Monday: Byrd’s cookies

byrd's cookies all.jpgLast week my family made our annual pilgrimage to Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Ok, so it’s not actually any sort of religious trip, unless you’re like my aunt and consider a trip to the beach a way to worship the sun. Ever since my daughter was a teeny tiny baby, 8 years ago, my husband’s family has headed to my SiL’s beach house in Wild Dunes (I can actually see my SiL’s house in the picture on this link)¬†and we’ve spent a week together.

I know for many people this probably sounds like a dream. An entire week spent in a house that is not only right next door to a pool, but can also claim the ocean as its backyard, is the stuff that relaxation videos are made out of, right? Clearly anyone who thinks this has never met my in-laws.

I do not mean this post as a condemnation of my in-laws, who on an individual basis are almost entirely great people–except for that one. It is very hard to share a house, even a decent sized one with 15 other people for an entire week. The actual house only sleeps 10 people comfortably (12 with air mattresses), so thankfully four of those people didn’t actually spend the night at the house. My MiL and FiL had a hotel room at the Boardwalk Inn, which is actually right next door. Additionally, two members of my MiL’s extended family also spent the days at our beach house, but their nights at my SiL’s condo in nearby Charleston. However, for pretty much every waking hour of the day, there were 15 people in the house. Seven were children ranging from 8-14. That is a LOT of noise, especially when most of it is contained between two floors with walls that are surprisingly thin.

And don’t even get me started on the nightly “entertainment” from bands at the hotel next door.

But again, that’s not the purpose of this post. Inevitably what happens at some point during this trip, we all get more than a little sick of each other. For my family this means a trip to a matinee one day. It also means at least one lunch and one dinner (and this year one breakfast) away from the basically required family meals to have some alone time. It also means our yearly trip into downtown Charleston, where we always visit the City Market and the surrounding shops.

Despite a serious need for an extended break from everyone around Wednesday, we had a few hiccups and didn’t actually get into town until Friday, our last full day of the trip. I was excited not only to visit some absolute favorites from years past (Charleston Crab House, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, The Spice and Tea Exchange of Charleston, and Kilwin’s to name a few), but to discover a brand new shop I’d never seen before: Byrd’s Cookies.

Byrd’s was so new, in fact, that they didn’t even have their official signage up on the building yet. They’d been open for less than a month and had I not seen a sign on their door offering a taste test of cookies when I walked into The Spice and Tea Exchange, we might have walked right on by. I am so glad we didn’t!

Byrd’s may be new to downtown Charleston, but they have been a cookie tradition for over 90 years. They started in Savannah, Georgia with their original Scotch Oatmeal cookie and now have over a dozen varieties, all of which were available to taste test when we went in. Although I wanted to try them all, I was good and only tried about five varieties. All that I tried were really good. It was hard to make a decision about which four varieties to buy (it was buy 3 get one for $1). In the end we decided to let each person in the family pick their favorite.

My daughter picked the Key Lime cookies. These powdered sugar covered cuties are VERY sweet. They definitely have a bright, limey taste to them, with vanilla undertones as the flavor wears down. My kids and husband LOVE them. I am not quite as big of a fan, even though as a rule I love key lime. I don’t like the slightly odd feel the powdered sugar leaves on the roof of my mouth. However, I have never been a fan of powdered sugar covered treats. One of the reasons I avoid many jelly-filled donuts is because they are covered in powdered sugar. I also don’t like the little Hostess Donnettes with the powdered sugar at all. I hate being messy and I HATE when my hands have food residue on them, which I think is part of the problem. The other problem is that powdered sugar always seems to leave a bit of a residue both on my fingers and in my mouth and I am not a fan. Anyone who likes powdered sugar will probably love these cookies though.

Next up were my husband’s pick: the original Scotch Oatmeal ones. These are quite good, although they do have the tiniest hint of a dark molasses flavor to them. Not that I mind, I just wasn’t initially expecting it and it took a few cookies to grow on me. They actually remind me a bit of one of my favorite childhood cookies: Archway Iced Oatmeal cookies. Yeah, I was that strange kids who really loved oatmeal cookies. I still don’t like Oreos at all and I never crave Chips Ahoy! but give me an oatmeal cookie, with or without icing and I’m over the moon. I’ll take a soft, fresh from the oven oatmeal raisin cookie over a chocolate chip one pretty much any day. I just love the creamy sweetness of oatmeal cookies. Although these little guys are crunchy, not soft, they are still amazingly good. They have that wonderfully oaty flavor that always reminds me just a bit of nuts. They aren’t overly sweet, which I think is perfect at times. I couldn’t eat an entire bag in one sitting, but I know I will be reaching into this bag quite a bit.

Since all of us are huge peanut butter fans, it was not a shock that my son picked chocolate peanut butter. These are so creamy and peanutty! With the crunch, they remind me a bit of eating a spoonful of chunky peanut butter (my favorite). The chocolate in them is subtle and really only in hints, which I don’t mind. The peanut butter is clearly the star here and that is great. I love that when I bite into them I can see real chunks of peanuts. These tiny treats are full of even tinier bits of peanut, but packed with tons of peanut flavor.

Byrd's salted caramelNot to brag, but my favorite, are without a doubt, the ones I picked: salted caramel. I know, I just had a post about salted caramel butter cookies. I also know that these days everything is salted caramel and that many people think it is way beyond cliche/overdone/boring now, but I don’t care. I am not a bit ashamed to say I LOVE these cookies. They are utterly amazing and I cannot stop eating them. They are sweeter than the peanut butter chocolate or Scotch oatmeal, but thanks to the salt, not as sweet as the Key Lime, so they are in that perfect sweet spot for me. They are buttery and delicate. They practically melt on my tongue. The caramel flavor is long lasting and simply amazing. No matter how much I try, I cannot stop eating these amazing cookies. Even though I haven’t finished the 8 oz bag yet (although I have come frighteningly close to it), I have already looked online about buying another bag. Now that I know these exist, they are a must have for me. I cannot imagine a world where my pantry is not stocked with them from now on.

Knowing that Byrd’s is now in downtown Charleston has already got me looking forward to next year’s beach vacation, even if it does mean squeezing into a house with 14 other people!

Overall:

Taste: 10/10 for salted caramel (8/10 for the others)
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10 for the salted caramel (8/10 for the others)

 

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Chocolate Monday: All Butter Caramel & Sea Salt Biscuits

caramel sea salt biscuits.jpgI don’t know why I find it so adorable that people from the UK call cookies biscuits, but I seriously do. During my most recent trip across the Pond, our tour guide was discussing some of the linguistic differences between American English and British English. One that she was quick to point out is the difference in the idea of biscuits. She told us about how appalled she was when she first heard someone from the States talk about biscuits and gravy because the thought of putting gravy on cookies is revolting.

While I would have loved a good breakfast of our biscuits and gravy while I was in the UK, I was just as happy to get to try some truly fantastic version of their biscuits. For the record, they do have cookies in the UK. And they do have something that is sort of biscuit like–at least by American standards. Their “biscuits” are usually called scones (although not really like our buttermilk variety at all and usually filled with fruit). Their cookies are similar to many of our cookies–the soft, freshly baked kind you get out of the oven in America are also called cookies in the UK. In the UK, a biscuit is a hard sort of prepackaged cookie like Chips Ahoy! or any variety of Keebler cookie.

all butter caramel and sea salt biscuitsWhile I was visiting Warwick Castle, which is actual history meets Medieval Times, I found a delicious sounding package of biscuits in the gift shop. Although they were not chocolate, they caught my eyes because they had one of my favorite flavor combinations: sea salt and caramel. I make a pretty mean caramel sea salt brownie and I’ve had truffles and caramels with sea salt, but I’d yet to have any sort of cookie, no matter what it is called with the combination. I had to buy them.

Oh my gosh am I glad I did! They were not just delicious sounding, but actually delicious! The cookies are very rich and buttery. The first bite, which has the perfect crunch, actually left my lips feeling a bit greasy. I know this sounds gross, but it was amazing! It was clearly the real butter used in making these cookies. The butter feel on my lips reminded me of times when I’ve eaten a flakey, buttery pastry. YUM!

Although the cookies was initially crunchy, it basically melted in my mouth. This is no doubt partially due to the butter content and partially due to the perfect texture of the cookie.

The caramel flavor is deep and creamy and just as the taste was beginning to fade, there was a great kick of salt to add a lovely savory component. It is nearly impossible to just eat one of these circle of heaven. Outside of Girl Scout cookies, I am not usually one to eat any sort of crunchy cookie. I’ll do it if I really need something sweet and there isn’t really anything else available, but crunchy, prepacked cookies are always a last resort. Even Girl Scout cookies tend to stay in my cabinet longer than they should (I still have three packages) because I just get tired of these types of cookies. But I don’t think I could ever get tired of these. It’s probably for the best that they are an entire continent away from me. It’s also probably good that despite seeing similar tubes of cookies in other souvenir shops, I never saw another package of these biscuits. I am afraid of how many I might have purchased.

The tin of a dozen cookies was about $5.60, which would be outrageously priced, even by Girl Scout cookie standards, if they weren’t so dog gone good.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10

 

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Chocolate Monday: DeBrand’s pecan caramels and cookies

DeBrands caramel and cookieI feel in love with DeBrand chocolate last year when one of my seniors gave me a box of their Classic Collection as a thank you for writing her a college recommendation letter. That first box sparked me to buy a box of their truffle collection as well as their Connoisseur Collection. While I liked all three collections, the classic is, without a doubt, my favorite.

For my birthday my husband bought me a collection of their amazing tasting bars and I loved each one.

Last week I got one of their catalogs in the mail and I was pouring over some tasty treats I haven’t yet tried. High up on my wish list were their caramel collections. I also thought about ordering a box of some of my favorite individual classics. The only problem, in my opinion, with DeBrand is that the stores are located about two hours from my house, so shipping is my only real option and that gets pricey.

Then, on Thursday, one of my students mentioned that DeBrand had just opened a new location in Indianapolis. Not only did they have all of their chocolates on sale, but also ice cream and beverages. I knew this was a must for me, so this weekend I ventured in.

It was hard not to go crazy and buy everything in sight. However, since the store is now so close, I did my best to remember that I could come back whenever I wanted to, so I didn’t have to get it all. Still, it was hard not to.

On this first trip, I satisfied myself with a handpicked box of my favorites from the Classic Collection. I also grabbed my first box of their caramels and a chocolate butter cookie. I love the melty caramel centers in their Classic Collection and the semi-melty center in their caramel truffle, so I figured the caramels on their were a must.

The cookie was fun to look at and at only $1.25, it seemed like a great way to get some solid, unadulterated chocolate. The print on top of the cookie is the name of the company in several different fonts. The cookie itself reminds me of a fancy Fudge Striped cookie, which happens to be my favorite type of store bought cookie. The cookie is buttery and crumbly and and quite good on its own, although it is so covered in chocolate that it’s hard to get a bite of just cookie. The chocolate on top is rich and creamy. Together, they are a much improved version of my childhood favorite. I could definitely see getting addicted to these treasures.

debrand caramel with biteAs much as I enjoyed the cookie, I was blown away by the caramels. There are four varieties of caramels they sell. They have milk chocolate with sea salt, dark chocolate with sea salt, butter caramel (no chocolate) and pecan caramel. Since it seems the only way to find caramels these days is with sea salt, I opted to try something I see less often: pecan caramels. I’ll admit I was initially drawn to the very heavy coating of pecan dust on the top of the candies. It reminded me of butter toffee, one of my absolute favorite chocolate covered treats. Before I tried the actual caramel, I took a taste of the pecan dust that fell into the wrapper. The nuts were salted, giving them a decidedly savory taste, which made me happy. It seems I was going to get salted caramel after all.

What I was not prepared for was the actual pecan content of the caramel itself. I guess I figured the dusting on the top would be the whole of the pecan contribution. However, my first bite proved this wrong. When I looked at the inside of the piece, I was amazed to find it a virtual wall of pecans. Texture wise I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, because despite seeing chunks of pecans in front of me, what I tasted was a thick, creamy caramel with just a slight crunch to it. It was hardly even a crunch really. The nuts blended perfectly with the caramel, giving it a sinfully delicious nutty taste.

I’m usually not a huge fan of nuts in chocolate, but I am in LOVE with these. They are so darn tasty. I could easily eat the entire box of four in one sitting. Sure, I’d regret it later, but in the moment it would be bliss. I know it’s going to be hard to go back into DeBrand and try any of the other caramels since I love this one so much. But, thankfully, I will persevere.

Before I left the store, I did get a hot caramel, which was a fun take on the usual hot chocolate drink. It was very sweet, so I’m glad that I shared it with my daughter. While it’s not something I’d get every time, it was a fun change of pace that I’m glad I tried. My next visit will have to include not only more caramels, but maybe an ice cream sundae as well.

Overall:

Caramel Taste: 10/10
Caramel Appearance: 9/10
Caramel Value: 9/10–I know $3 per caramel is a bit steep, but they are large caramels and so damn good!

Cookie Taste: 8/10
Cookie Appearance: 9/10
Cookie Value: 10/10–At $1.25 per cookie, I think these are just about a perfect treat

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Chocolate Monday: Sweetie Pie

SP cookies

Cookies featured in photo: (top row): chocolate malt, peanut butter shallot, maple pecan
(middle row): oatmeal raisin and sweet and savory
(bottom row): pumpkin, chocolate chip and ginger turmeric

One of the best parts about visiting my best friend in Athens, Georgia is that it is a town full of amazing food. And I do love food.

Since I visit her for at least two weeks out of every year, I’ve had a chance to discover some favorite places that are must eats every trip. Despite having some tried and true favorites, she always manages to introduce me to some amazing new places.

On my very first trip to Athens four years ago, as I prepared to turn into her neighborhood for the very first time, I noticed that directly across from the entrance was a tiny shack-like building that appeared to be a restaurant. It was a smokehouse called Rooters. Since I love barbecue, I asked my BFF about it, but she said they hadn’t tried it since they didn’t have a single vegetarian option (a rarity in Athens). Her husband later told me that it was decent, but that their hours were so strange that he pretty much gave up trying to eat there.

About two years ago, right as I was preparing for our bi-annual trip to see her, I got an excited text from my BFF telling me that the BBQ joint was no more. In it’s place was an amazing little bakery she could not wait for me to try out.

And try it out I did.

Like its predecessor, Sweetie Pie has some annoying hours. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and only open from 7:30-3:30 Tues-Sat. I also learned on that first trip if you are not one of the early birds, you completely miss out on one of their absolutely best treats: chocolate croissants. Now, I am a pretty huge fan of the chocolate croissant, no matter who makes it, but I have to say Sweetie Pie takes it to a whole other level. Wow…just wow!

But like I said, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get them. The owner, Savie, only makes a limited amount and when they are gone, they are gone. Luckily she makes several other flavors of croissants that while not as good in this chocoholic’s opinion, are still completely worth it if you want to sleep in a little.

Much to my severe annoyance, my kids are pretty early risers. My daughter feels that 6 am is the perfect time to wake up, even on vacation. Now that she’s 7, I have made it very clear that unless the clock says 7:00 am, she is not allowed to get out of bed. And, if it doesn’t say at least 8:00, she is not allowed to wake me up. My son does like to sleep in a bit longer, but when he has to share a room with her on vacation, he tends to rise when she rises. The only time I have every been thankful for their insistence on rising before the sun even has the decency to start shining is when I get those chocolate croissants from Sweetie Pie.

Although my heart clearly belongs to those chocolate croissants, on this trip I decided to try something a bit different. This time I took a look at all the different cookies Savie had available in her case. Despite faithfully stopping in at least twice every visit, I’d only ever had croissants, scones, breads or cinnamon rolls before. I’d never actually tried any of her cookies and I thought this was the perfect chance to remedy this.

SP logoWhile Sweetie Pie features typical baked goods you’ll find in a lot of cafes like blueberry scones or pumpkin bread or almond croissants, Savie utilizes a lot of flavor combinations found in Asian desserts. She has taro root muffins, red bean croissants, Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes. Although I have not tried them all,¬† the Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes are excellent.

When I gazed at her cookie offerings, I found several rows of cookies both of the the very traditional variety: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, pecan and the more exotic: sweet and salty, ginger turmeric and peanut butter and shallot. Yeah, you read that last one correctly, she offers a peanut butter and shallot cookie. And yes, I tried it.

I decided to order one of each cookie. While I knew there was no way I would be able to eat them all, since there were 5 of us in the house, I knew they wouldn’t go to waste. I also knew that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about trying just a couple of bites from each cookie. At least not over the course of a day or two.

And so later that afternoon, I embarked on an epic cookie tasting adventure. Eight cookies to try and eight cookies to write about.

I’ll start with the more traditional flavors. The chocolate chip cookie, which I worried might be a bit hard as it seemed a little on the thin side, was amazingly soft, buttery and just the perfect amount of chewiness. It was actually fairly light on the chocolate chips, which despite my love of chocolate, is what I prefer. It was very good, but might not be the best choice for someone with a true hankering for chocolate. My best friend, who loves her chocolate chip cookies filled to the brim with chocolate chips, thought it could use more.

The oatmeal raisin was exactly what I expected out of an oatmeal raisin cookie. It was sweet and buttery, with the perfect amount of raisins adding that burst of fruit with each bite. Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a favorite of mine and this one was great. I ended up eating most of this cookie during our epic Settlers of Catan battle the next night.

The pecan cookie, which was pretty big, was soft and chewy and very pecany. If you like nuts, this would be a great cookie for you. I’m actually not a huge fan of nuts in cookies, so while it was good, it would not be one I’d get again.

The pumpkin cookie, which actually had more to its official title which I could not remember once I got back to my BFF’s house (I think there might have been caramel in it too), was delightful. I know pumpkin spice gets a really bad rap, especially in the fall where it is pretty much in everything. Hell, I get annoyed by it myself. I think pumpkin spice Cheerios and Twinkies are pushing the envelope (and not in a good way). And don’t even get me started on the pumpkin spice dog breath freshener chewy things we saw at the pet store. However, as pumpkin pie is also an absolute favorite of mine, this cookie was nearly perfect.

SP choc malt cookieNow, onto some of the more unique flavors. My favorite of the all Sweetie Pie’s cookie offerings were ones I’d never tried in any other bakery before. My absolute favorite was probably the chocolate malt cookie. I’ve never actually¬† had a chocolate malt before. The closest I’ve come is like Whoppers malted milk balls–that’s similar, right? But this cookie was incredible. Once again, I was initially concerned about this one since it was so thin. I was positive it was going to be the type of cookie my BFF complains about Jittery Joe’s having. However, it was amazingly soft and chewy. It was also very, very chocolatey. I loved the light sprinkling of powdered sugar on the top of it (which amazingly did NOT come off all over my hands). It was light and buttery and reminded me a bit of chocolate fudge. However, it didn’t have that cloyingly sweet taste fudge often gets.

My second favorite cookie was the ginger turmeric. This cookie was the epitome of Fall to me. If I had to assign one taste to the season, it would not be pumpkin spice. It would be this cookie. It was chewy and had just the right amount of spicy ginger. It reminded me a bit of a molasses cookie, but it wasn’t as heavy or syrupy. If only the weather in Georgia would have dipped below 85 degrees, eating this cookie would have made me feel like Fall had finally arrived.

The sweet and savory cookie was not as savory as I worried it would be. The little tag with the cookie mentioned teriyaki as part of the flavor combination, so I was worried it would be too salty. However, it was mostly just very oatmealy. It actually reminded me way more of butterscotch than teriyaki. It probably didn’t hurt that it has the same slightly orange tint oatmeal scotchies have. It was a good cookie, but I liked the raisin version better.

Finally, I attempted the most intriguing, and admittedly potentially upsetting cookie: peanut butter and shallot. It definitely smelled like onions. It was an odd combo to say the least. The cookie itself didn’t taste like onions. It had an oniony after taste, but even that was fairly subtle. The peanut butter was also not overly pronounced. It was definitely a sweet cookie with slightly oniony hints. While I would probably never buy it again as it didn’t wow me, it actually wasn’t bad. Neither of my children were brave enough to try it (my daughter hates onions and she knows shallots are really just fancy onions), but my BFF and her husband did and they agreed it was not what they expected.

I am very depressed that my next visit to Athens will not be for another 5 months. Not just because I miss my BFF so terribly, but also because I won’t get any of Sweetie Pie’s amazing baked goods for a long time.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 9/10

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