Having lived in three different countries in the last seven years, we have found that one of the quickest way to become acquainted with the new (and to find vestiges of the old) is to browse grocery stores. Nothing quite beats the bountiful meat and diary section of Australian grocery stores, the green leafy vegetable forests and colourful snack aisles of Chinese grocery stores, and in London, there’s the rainbow of berry punnets juxtaposed against a mind-boggling buffet of tea biscuits and “I-am-too-lazy-to-cook” pre-packaged frozen food.
As for NYC…here’s a confession: it took us about two years here to discover the wonders of the grocery store that is Trader Joe’s. And… it was only during this pandemic-induced lockdown that we discovered that TJ has some very delicious desserts on offer. I know, crazy right? *Face palm.* To compensate for this doubly unforgivable oversight, we are rounding up some of the best TJ desserts we treated ourselves to over the last few months when the trip to the grocery store was the highlight of our week, and which we have no hesitation in indulging in again after this lockdown is over. (*We will keep updating this round-up, so make sure to bookmark!).
*Updated October 2022.
Mochi Ice Cream
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.49
- Short and sweet story: Mochi desserts started to gain serious dessert trend traction in NYC sometime in 2019. You may recall our round-up review of the most interesting mochi desserts (including doughnuts, yes) that we spotted in NYC. Well, if you are craving some mochi on a daily basis, look no further than TJ’s mochi ice cream bites. They come in a variety of flavours, but the Thai Tea must be our favourite. The mochi skin is appropriately thin, and the ball of Thai Tea-flavoured ice cream induces a rather awesome form of brain freeze when gulped in one bite.
- Cost of sugar fun: $1.99-2.29
- Short and sweet story: Primary school was not a particularly cheerful phase of our lives. Back in Australia, we endured a lot of racist name-calling, and a lot of competitive backstabbing among our classmates. The one thing we do recall with some joy was the school canteen. On the occasion that our parents gave us a few dollar coins to “splurge” on, there were three things we would always hit up: (i) white paper bags of eucalyptus lollies for 25 cents; (ii) the icy joy of a Zooper Dooper or Sonny Boy for 50 cents; and (iii) lasagna in a palm-sized aluminium tin for $2.50. Number #2 was particularly wonderful during the oven-hot Australian summer. This summer of 2020 in NYC has been an abnormal roasting, one which saw us eyeing the ice cream aisle repeatedly on our weekly grocery trips. TJs offers several icy poles of note – we have tried one of frosty lime, and another of a strawberry, raspberry and lemonade flavour. The former is just-average, but the latter is a cool-down must-eat.
Mini Ice Cream Cones
- Cost of sugar fun: $2.99
- Short and sweet story: The “Cornetto” or “Drumstick” ice cream cone has been one of our favourite grocery-store desserts since we were little. TJs has a similar interpretation, albeit in a clever guilt-free, baby size. The tiny orb of vanilla ice cream iced over in chocolate, and squished into a crunchy sugar waffle cone makes for a rather perfect mid-week or Sunday evening treat.
Cookie Butter Ice Cream
- Cost of sugar fun: $4.99
- Short and sweet story: It is a well-known fact that the French love butter. The Americans do too, albeit they love flavoured butter. In the last four years in NYC, we have seen the likes of pumpkin butter, sweet potato butter, apple butter, olive butter, and of course, peanut butter. And most recently, “Cookie Butter.” At TJs, a smooth, cloyingly sweet caramel is swirled into an ice cream base spiked with vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon and cloves. If you have a tremendous tolerance for sweetness, this is perfect for you. It is even just a little OTT for us dessert-addicts.
Frozen Key Lime Pie
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.99
- Short and sweet story: Growing up in Australia, “pies” meant savoury pies, or more precisely, meat pie, a chunky soup of beef in a thick pastry bowl. In the States though, we have found that “pies” usually mean sweet pies – key lime pie, custard pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, apple pie, and pecan pie. NYC’s best key lime pie may be found at Steve’s in Red Hook, but on the days when we don’t have the will power to hop on a ferry to the outskirts of the city, TJ’s frozen key lime pie works a treat. It isn’t quite as tangy as Steve’s, but it’s more convenient, bigger, and just as beautiful a sunshine yellow.
Confectionery and Chocolate Bites
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.49 – 4.29
- Short and sweet story: When it comes to eating habits, we steer clear of both gluttony and deprivation. Everything in moderation is our mantra…usually. 😛 Indeed, in the pre-Covid epoch, it was only really on the weekends that we would indulge in a larger, or more artistically considered, dessert. As far as weekdays went, we would typically have a small chocolate bite after dinner, usually an after-dinner chocolate mint of some form. TJs does a splendid version of an after-dinner mint. We have it on repeat purchase, because how can we say “no” to a container of chocolate mints for the price of one mint at a high-end chocolate store, eh? Aside from TJs’ after-dinner mints, we love TJs’ “Fruit Jellies” (aka pate de fruits), and also don’t mind the “Smores” chocolate bites (though that is usually reserved for “bad days”).
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.99
- Short and sweet story: You know we love pancakes – goodness, we have written a number of round-up reviews of the best pancakes brunches in NYC for almost every season of the year (see here, here and here). And while arguably, the best savoury brunches may be found in Australia, no one does pancakes better than the Americans. TJs has taken this breakfast food, baked it into a tea cake loaf and called it “Pancake Bread.” The end result is not really pancake, but rather more a cinnamon and maple flavoured cake encrusted with sugar crystals and of a heavenly pillowy texture. Unless you have an extraordinary craving for sweetness at breakfast, we would recommend it as an intermission between lunch and dinner, rather than as part of your morning ritual.
The Cookie and the “Brookie”
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.99
- Short and sweet story: Of the last five years or so, we have noticed that desserts have tended to fall into three broad categories: (i) hybrid desserts; (ii) Instagram-worthy desserts; and (iii) comfort desserts with an edge. Of the first category, we think that hybrid desserts were invented for the indecisive. We have spotted in NYC, the “Cruffin” (muffin and croissant), “Cronut” (doughnut and croissant), “Mookie” (macaron and cookie), and now, the “Brookie” (brownie and cookie). TJs does offer a very good chocolate-chip cookie (pictured below), but they also offer it partnered in a tight tango with a luscious brownie. The result of this dessert love-making is well…an intoxicating addiction.
- Cost of sugar fun: $3.99
- Short and sweet story: We have been avoiding the dark dank NYC subway as far as possible since the pandemic hit, and the consequence of this has been that some areas of Manhattan are presently a bit too far for us. While we may not be able to easily get to our favourite babka at Breads Bakery or Michaeli Bakery (as featured on our round-up review of NYC’s Best Iconic Desserts), we found that TJs offers a pretty fabulous (and rather extra-chocolatey) substitute. Will you look at all those flaky layers! So thankful that it is available mostly year-round at TJs.
Chocolate pecan pie
- Cost of sugar fun: Approx $5
- Short and sweet story: If key lime pie is our favourite sweet American pie, pecan pie would be a close second favourite. What can possibly be better than an addictive molassy spoonful of pecan pie? How about chocolate mixed into that brown sugar concoction? This seasonal dessert is one of our favourite TJs desserts.
- Cost of sugar fun: Approx $4-5
- For autumn — Sticky Toffee Pudding — If we had to pinpoint one dessert flavour particularly unique to the US that cannot be found elsewhere in the world, that would have to be pumpkin spice. We have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. But we absolutely l-o-v-e TJ’s sticky toffee pudding that is lusciously smothered in a caramel sauce and with just the lightest touch of pumpkin tones. There’s no better way to welcome the start of the autumn season.
- For pre-Christmas — Gingerbread cookies — As we wrote here, we love ginger cookies. So hard to find them here in the States, though! 😦 Gingerbread is not quite the same….that is, until we encountered a hefty box of 18 such cookies at TJs. Confession: we used this box to count down almost every day of December until Christmas and the end of the year. Yip yip hooray! 😛