Chocolate Croissants and Peppermint Mocha Frap

Chocolate Croissants

By: Trader Joe’s

Suggested Retail Price: $3.99 for four croissants

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 3stars

Wouldn’t it be nice occasionally to have fresh croissants without schlepping out to the bakery or bothering with the arcana of high-level pastry baking? An unlikely potential savior has emerged from the Trader Joe’s chain: a box of frozen chocolate croissants.

But these croissants add an intriguing wrinkle to the usual “remove from freezer and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit” directions for frozen pastry. They must go through a nine-hour proofing period, wherein they sit at room temperature overnight on a piece of waxed paper and swell to nearly double their initial boxed size as the yeast leavens the dough.

I live around the corner from Lucia’s, easily one of the best bakeries in the Midwest, if not the nation. The Trader Joe’s product was not as good as a Lucia’s chocolate croissant, but it was within striking distance. This is astounding. Sure, it lacks some of the warm, buttery flavor of the real thing, but it was delicate and filled with a mature, restrained layer of bittersweet chocolate paste. It emerged from the oven with a lovely mahogany hue and crackly texture that conjured up a baked good produced with artisanal love.

Naturally, these puppies command a little more work than, say, the typical Pillsbury tube offering. You need the presence of mind to proof them the night before, and you must get your breakfast rolling at least 20 minutes before you plan to eat it. These may be more of a weekend indulgence than a daily treat. But at a buck a pop, from the freezer section … wow.

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino

By: Starbucks

Suggested Retail Price: $6 for four 9.5-ounce bottles

Taste: 3stars


Marketing: 3stars

Say what you want about Starbucks: It’s overpriced. It’s getting outcoffeed by McDonald’s. It sucks the indie character out of otherwise charming neighborhoods like a chupacabra sucking blood out of a goat. All of these are true, but it does tend to make a wicked good milk-coffee-sugar-flavoring combo drink, even in its bottled grocery store incarnation. And now that it’s holiday time—not to mention the Year of Dark Chocolate Going Beyond Trendy to Ubiquitous—Starbucks has rolled out its latest limited-edition experiment, the inelegantly named Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino. Amid a spate of pumpkin, eggnog, spice, etc., drinks appearing both in coffeehouses and in grocery stores, this particular offering stands out for delivering holiday flair in a potentially more nuanced form.

The drink has a smooth texture and a flavor that’s pleasantly reminiscent of a peppermint baked Alaska. Both chocolate and mint represent, but neither is cloying; they speak their piece and retire quietly, leaving a milky aftertaste with just a hint of mint. There is a certain vaguely chemical or overly sugary je ne sais quoi that stops this from being a blockbuster holiday beverage, but it’s definitely lighter than eggnog and more festive than tea—a reasonable way to work holiday cheer into a midday deskbound refreshment break. It’s also a big step up from its shelfmate, the Mocha Frappuccino, which is insubstantial to the point of being insipid. Dark chocolate, it seems, is “in” for a reason.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.