Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Guilty Pleasures: Little Bitty Twinkie Toes

You know you've heard some unfortunate young weight-challenged child told to 'go eat a Twinkie.'So you can understand the difficulty I had with wrapping my mind around the concept of the 100 calorie Twinkie pack. A "golden sponge cake with creamy filling" is what Twinkie the Kid markets himself as, and it's this vagueness, I think, that makes Twinkies so synonymous with ... well, fat food.

For years, I nursed a healthy fear and respect for Twinkies, after being told by some kid in junior high school that the filling was made with hippopotamus fat. No joke. (Don't mock my gullibility -- although I date myself, this was well before Wikipedia came into being.) All of the sudden, I did start to notice the greasy quality of the cream, how it was light and pouffy and oily and heavy simultanously. I noticed that the cream filling wasn't exactly vanilla-y and how its shelf life (now don't pretend you haven't found a Ho-Ho or Twinkie in the black nether regions of your cabinets .. and ate it ... and enjoyed it) matched that of carbon.

Then along came the 100 calorie pack, which led me to rethink the negatives, positive, facts, and fictions of this super-processed, false and delicious little snack.

It's almost a little silly, really, that a 100 calorie pack of Twinkies exists, considering that a whole original Twinkie weighs in at a mere 160 calories.

Surprised? I certainly was.

Anyway, it strikes me as a rather clever marketing ploy to take a cake with a reputation so maligned that it has become synonymous with "Fat Middle America" and childhood obesity, and repackage it as a slightly smaller snack at an easy to count caloric level. Anything with "100 Calories!" splayed across the front of box attracts the hordes of people seeking to drop some fat from our increasingly protruding bodies, and fools us into believing that it's almost healthy. After all, how could something with such a small, almost insignificant number, be classified as junk, especially when it's cunningly promoted as an item that aids in portion control? And at only 25 calories from fat?! Ding, ding, ding -- we have a winner.

The gimmick worked for me, I'm kind of ashamed to say. I bought that box and when it was empty, I bought another one. It went on my grocery list, and I even considered buying a box of full-sized Twinkies ($2.50 at Target!), but was stopped by my Partner in Dine, Leah. What are friends for if not to keep you from things you may regret later?

So, hundred-cal box it was.

Three little one-inch in diameter pieces are nestled in a white cardboard holder, with the plastic overwrap slightly sweaty from the grease that makes up the Twinkie. Shortening, perhaps? The list of ingredients is far too long to parse through to find the technical term for Crisco -- the mark of a highly processed food.

They stick to the white cardboard as the original Twinkies do to the plastic wrap, leaving a light brown layer of cake, and the bottom still has that signature white spot of cream that indicates where the cream was injected into the cake. Shorter than your standard Twinkie, and proportionately denser, this is no crumbly cake that falls apart when it meets your teeth. No, it keeps its composure, offering mild resistance at first bite, sticking to your enamel, but demonstrates twice the firmness when it hits your molars. A tiny bit buttery and pretty darn sweet, the satisfaction of eating the Twinkie is rather short-lived, since the flavor fades fast, leaving just the scent of fake cake and sugar in your mouth, rather than the taste.

They're meant to be eaten with a respectable amount of cream in each bite, cream that has an oily undertone, but a light feel that belies the density of it as it takes its time to spread on your tongue. It's less sweet than the cake, since its greasiness overrides its semi-benign sugary flavor. Think of this cream as a hybrid of cheap, oily frosting (though not really flavored, like buttercream or vanilla is) and Cool Whip.

The little cakelets are filled pretty decently with the artificial white stuff, as you can see, just like the original Twinkies. Again, the difference lies in its height, the regular Twinkie cake towering over the bites, as well as in density.

So is the 100 calorie pack a fair substitute for the junky treat or is it worth the extra 50 calories to go whole hog, hippo fat and all? I tend to think the bigger ones will leave you more satisfied, but then it's twice as bad when you reach for that second snack. Let your strength in willpower decide.

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