Serious Eats

Cereal Eats: Cereals Inspired by Baked Goods

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Sometimes when I'm at the grocery store I stand in the cereal aisle and just marvel at the brightly colored boxes with their googly-eyed mascots. Cereals of every size, shape, color and flavor. It's sensory overload in the best possible way.

I am similarly overwhelmed by the sensation of looking into a large bakery case. Staring at varieties of cookies at an Italian bakery or the seasonal offerings at Doughnut Plant makes me want to do something rash like purchase one of everything. (Here at Serious Eats we do that fairly often, which usually results in me feeling ill for the rest of the day. Worth it). Today, we take a look at the marriage of these two things.

Lots of cereals out there are inspired by other kinds of foods. Like candy (Reese's Puffs) or breakfast (Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the elusive French Toast Crunch). While surveying the Serious Eats Cereal Corner, I realized several of the boxes were inspired by baked sweets.

Cookie Crisp

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Starting with a nostalgic cult favorite, Cookie Crisp. Well, I know the diehards out there are going to riot against me for this, but Cookie Crisp is a terrible cereal. It has a styrofoamy texture and weirdly sweet flavor. The chocolate "chips" are nothing more than dark brown crunchy disks of mystery.

I remember when it first came across my radar. My sister chose it while I stuck with the more dependable, more mouth-shredding Captain Crunch. Giavanna defiantly claimed she loved it but I think she was just trying to justify her terrible choice. Indeed when asking her about this memory, she told me, "there is a TASTE and its not a good taste. They get slippery in milk and are hollow and sort of deflate in your mouth."

This idea of cookies for breakfast has been conning kids since 1977. Well, I ain't buyin' it. I also noticed that rotund little pup that used to chase after it on commercials has been switched to a mangier looking replacement.

Sprinkles Cookie Crisp

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I'm a total fool for a big rainbow sprinkle cookie. Actually, I would eat sprinkles on a piece of cardboard. Basically I should move to Denmark, where they eat sprinkles on bread with butter. (YEAH. It's called hagelslag.) So I was instantly drawn to the happy pink box of Cookie Crisp Sprinkles. Each familiarly styrofoam-like "cookie" has alluring fluorescent speckles and the box promises "the great taste of vanilla cookies and milk."

Once again, I was disappointed. Weird sweet flavor and not much else. Another fail on the cookies front. Shame on you, Cookie Crisp, for promising so much and delivering so little.

Brownie Crunch

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So, I love brownies. Like really, really do not leave me alone with them love brownies. They taste like a 3rd grade birthday party in the best possible way (as you can imagine, coming from the sparse childhood cabinets we had, I was that kid at birthday parties with my hand PLANTED in the Doritos bowl and elbowing my way to the front to get a piece of cake with a flower on it.)

Given this and my love of Cocoa Puffs, I was excited to try Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch. I should have taken the advice of cereal expert Adam from Grub Grade and avoided disappointment. Which is what this cereal is—a disappointment.

Sure, I ate countless dry handfuls; it's a passable chocolate cereal. But when you put the word brownie in the mix, you are setting the bar pretty darn high. They actually seem less chocolately than regular Cocoa Puffs, the shape does nothing for their texture and once again the "chocolate chips" are just decoration. I would choose regular (and awesome) Cocoa Puffs over this iteration any day.

Cinnabon

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Cinnabon. The name makes me think somewhat fondly of an airport terminal, an amusement park, or a suburban mall with an Auntie Anne's Pretzels on one side and mystery Chinese mall chicken samples on the other.

It's a guilty pleasure for many, including my dad. On road trips, he would disappear at rest stops and return with a huge unauthorized bun, while my mom was busy buying bananas and nut mix.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cinnabon cereal, which strives for a much different flavor than famous cinnamon cereals like my beloved Cinnamon Toast Crunch or its formidable competitor Mini Cinnamon Churros. You actually get the distinctive taste of cinnamon buns packed into these tiny swirls. Tasty. So, if Cinnabon is your thing, this cereal is for you.

Smorz

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I decided to include Smorz because I think it belongs in this whimsical bunch, and also, frankly, I don't care for it all that much and couldn't justify it getting its own dedicated post.

I had high hopes for this one, as I LOVE s'mores. But there were major flaws.

For instance, the flavor of the "chocolate coated graham pieces" is actually nothing like graham (which worked for me since I'm not wild about graham cereals) but tasted oddly to me like Stella Doro Breakfast treats, which are pretty awesome but do not translate in cereal form. The marshmallows are pretty interesting, bearing almost no similarity to their chalky Lucky Charms counterparts. When dry, the marshmallows are soft, springy and pretty good.

The cereal improves in milk, mostly because it's such an onslaught of sugar, it somehow tastes good. Strangely enough the marshmallows become hard and weird when wet, which perhaps speaks to the science of the Lucky Charms mallow. I'm not saying this cereal is entirely without its merits, I just...probably wouldn't reach for it again.

Sadly, I have to conclude that most of these cereals are a major fail. Maybe the two worlds aren't meant to meet.

Any diehard Cookie Crisp lovers out there? What other cereals imitate other foods?

As a side note, major thanks to cereal smuggler Christine Tsai, who gathered these boxes from the far reaches of New Jersey.

About the author: Aside from doing an awesome job with her role as Advertising Sales Manager, Leandra Palermo secretly harbors a lifelong passion with all things crunchy and served with icy cold skim milk. This column represents the culmination of that love affair.

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