Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Twinkie the Kid rides again, but is he tastier than Mud Pie's vegan sponge cake?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Twinkies are back in stores.
  • Twinkies are back in stores.

When Twinkies made their grand return to shelves July 15, I expected Price Chopper to be busier. This was the first time that the beloved treats were available since Hostess Brands shut down last November. Billboards looming over Interstate 35 announcing the corporation's comeback had taunted me for weeks: bold, colorful signs depicting golden snack cakes large enough to engulf my apartment building, along with their return date. I marked my calendar. I couldn't wait to try one.

I arrived at the store around noon, anticipating a throng of flag-waving patriots eager to fill their face holes. I wanted to see a snack aisle ravaged like the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse - boxes torn open and tossed aside, the floor littered with withered husks of golden sponge cake, the cream filling sucked out. Maybe someone would get trampled, Black Friday - style.

Instead, I couldn't even find the Twinkies.

I had to ask an employee where they were. She directed me to a single cardboard shelf in the corner of the freezer section with a small sign that read, "The sweetest comeback in the history of EVER." The shelf was mostly full.

While handing over $3.99 for my box of 10 cakes, I asked the cashier if a lot of people had been coming in for the Twinkies. She shrugged and said, "Kind of." She hadn't yet tried the new version of the classic treat, she said, because she was holding out for the single-serving packages. She was afraid she'd put away an entire box in a day.

She's probably smart to wait. With a new recipe that gives Twinkies a shelf life of 45 days instead of the previous 26, eating more than the suggested two at a time sounds potentially hazardous. To extend Twinkies' shelf life, the treats are frozen en route to the grocery store - the cream filling does not activate until it achieves a core temperature of 75. Now, for some good news: The new version has 135 calories, compared with 150 before.

But none of that health crap really matters. We're talking about Twinkies here, folks, which are basically sponges soaked in high-fructose corn syrup and Red No. 40. The unwrapped cake looked naked and inappropriate sitting on my desk in my very corporate office. But what mattered was how it tasted. And, in a word, it tasted weird. An odd glossy sheen coated my mouth and made my taste buds burn as I chewed.

Thinking maybe it was just me, I asked my co-workers to try them. One man, who has an affinity for Tahitian Treat (the insanely sugary soda that was popular in the 1980s) thought they were delicious. A woman I work with agreed that the Twinkie was greasy. Later, she said she could feel her heart slowing down. Another woman left a sticky note on my desk: "I found the new Twinkie to be completely tasteless." Everyone who tried one said it had been "like a decade" since they had eaten one.

Everyone, that is, except my boyfriend, who is well-versed in modern junk food and eats deep-fat-fried Twinkies at home. "I sucked the cream right out of the sponge," he said, after eating a cake for lunch. "Delicious."

While Hostess Twinkies are enjoying a renaissance, there's a local version, concocted from joyous experimentation, that never went away. The mastermind bakers at Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse baked up their ersatz twinkies last year on a whim before they even knew about the whole Hostess conundrum. Their version has only 11 ingredients - instead of the original's 35-plus - and it's vegan.

"We just thought it would be a funny thing to do," says Ashley Valverde, who co-owns Mud Pie with her husband, Michael Valverde, and her mother, Sharon Hughes. "It stems from remembering those things from being a kid. Sometimes we like to re-create something that is far from vegan."
click to enlarge Mud Pie's Mostess cupcakes: better than the original? - MUD PIE
  • Mud Pie
  • Mud Pie's Mostess cupcakes: better than the original?

The vegan twinkies are heavier, the sponge cake heartier, and the filling creamier - which is exactly what Valverde was going for.

"We weren't trying to get it dead-on, just as long as we thought it tasted good and was pretty close to the original," she says. "Hopefully it's better, too."

Word on the street is that Mud Pie's sponge cakes might be more delicious than the original. Valverde has heard as much from a few Hostess employees who stopped by the shop one day.

I have a lot of love for Mud Pie's version, as well as their cream-filled chocolate Mostess cupcakes, which also improve on the Hostess ones. These days, when it comes to reliving the snack cakes of my youth, I will always prefer the grown-ass-woman vegan version.

But I've still got a half box of the real deal in my desk drawer, and its contents will probably be gone by the end of the day.

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