I am endlessly susceptible to the siren song of new products, especially those involving chocolate. So when I passed the display in the grocery store for Oreo Cakesters—the soft, poofy cousin of the eternal Oreo—instinct had my hands reaching for them before the thought even occurred to me. So how are they? After the jump.
First, I'm skeptical of brand extensions, which are almost always inferior to the original. Take candy. A trend in recent years has been limited-edition spins on old favorites, a kind of open test marketing that reportedly worked well with soft drinks. Hence the big displays in the Kroger checkout aisle of inch-thick Reese's cups, Nestle's Crunch with caramel, etc. Sometimes these work like gangbusters (e.g., the awesome dark-chocolate Snickers and coconut $100,000 Bar). But most of the time, you can taste the desperation (as with anything coffee-flavored).
The desperation seems understandable, now that I'm reading Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. (It goes great with a big bag of Fritos.) The dilemma for food manufacturers, Pollan writes, is that human beings can only eat so much food. Even though our calorie intake has risen over the years, there's still that instinctive shut-off switch in everyone's head (except perhaps mine) that eventually says, "I simply cannot eat another Three Musketeers."
So if people can only consume a limited amount of candy, the manufacturer must overcome consumer burnout while capturing as much of that share as possible. Pollan argues persuasively that the driving force in food is not production but processing—the art of getting people to eat more of something they've already consumed to the filling point.
Which brings us to our squishy friend the Cakester. Some itchy Nabisco execs evidently looked down the cookie aisle, saw someone reach instead for a Ding Dong or a Suzy Q, and went into full-on panic mode: "Why aren't these people eating Oreos?" Could it be that the consumer might actually get tired of eating Oreos—yeah, it's unimaginable to me too, but I'm hypothesizing—and want to try something a little different? Softer? Cushier? Cakier?
The Oreo, in my book (but not Pollan's), is close to perfection. Two parts crunchy chocolate wafer to one part sugarized shortening, it has the ideal ratio of cookie to cream, with a lightly dusty, faintly bitter rich-dirt taste that offsets the icky-sweet filling. Separates easily. Soaks up milk like a champ. Hell, part of the fun of dunking is watching the thing go down slowly, like a cocoa S.S. Poseidon.
On all these fronts, alas, the Cakester is a disappointment. Start with the outside: two doughy chocolate cookie patties whose texture lands somewhere between a Twinkie and a dinner roll. In between is a thick disc of white filling—too much for my taste. Weirdly enough, the filling is slightly more toothsome than the outside. As a whole, in your mouth, its consistency is off-puttingly spongy and mushy. Worse, it has not so much the taste of an Oreo but the aftertaste—as if some chemically distilled essence d'Oreo were kicking in after the fact.
And don't even think about soaking it in milk. Unless you cherish the mouth-feel of a loofah dunked in bathwater. But the Cakester does have one odd side effect that would please the boys from Nabisco: it made me crave the old-fashioned hard-as-sailor's-rations Oreo. Which raises the possibility, as with New Coke, that the Cakester is some kind of Manchurian Candidate experiment in shoring up customer loyalty to the original O. In which case, gentlemen, bravo.
(Image swiped from Two a Day, with link to BrownPau's FLICKR page.)