If you've let your eyes wander to the selection of baked goods while in line at Starbucks, you may have noticed three new additions to the pastry case: chocolate caramel muffins, salted caramel squares, and salted caramel cake pops, a returning menu item that we initially checked out in 2012.
I've been impressed with several new menu items I've sampled at 'Bucks (namely, the raspberry swirl pound cake and cheesecake brownie), so I was excited to see if the coffee chain could go three for three with their newest treats.
I started with what I thought was the most promising option: the chocolate caramel muffin ($2.25), which is described as a "rich chocolate muffin with a creamy caramel center". For the most part, it lived up to my expectations. It was moist and fluffy, but not quite as deeply chocolatey as its appearance suggests. Combined with the gooey caramel in the center, which is portioned so you can get some in every bite, the not-too-intense chocolate flavor ends up being a bonus. The muffin is just sweet enough that you can pair it with a sugary latte without going into sugar shock.
The only misstep is the crystallized sugar on top which, instead of providing some welcome textural contrast, ends up being too distracting, and ultimately takes away from the pleasure of eating such a soft, fluffy muffin. Your friendly barista will likely offer you the option of having your muffin warmed up. Say yes.
I love how the salted caramel cake pop ($1.50) looks like a miniature, spherical representation of a caramel macchiato, right down to the foam (vanilla icing, in this case) and the caramel drizzle. A past review noted that the cake didn't have much flavor, but Starbucks seems to have remedied that this time around. It's dense, moist, and intensely chocolatey, with a subtle caramel finish, which comes from the caramel and chocolate buttercream icing that's mixed in.
The chocolate coating and white chocolate significantly ups the pop's flavor impact, which is a good thing, since it has a lifespan of about two bites. You get some relief from the sugar from the sprinkle of salt, but overall, if you're more motivated by salted caramel than chocolate, you might want to stick with the muffin. There's caramel in the cake pop, but it's there as an accent.
After enjoying the first two new items, I felt good about the salted caramel square ($2.25), which reminded me of a similar treat from Huckleberry in Santa Monica, but a three-for-three win was not to be.
Several elements were tasty, including the top layer (chocolate swirled with caramel) and the buttery, crumbly crust, but the middle was a miss, mostly because of the pretzel pieces, which were too large, tasted stale, and stuck to my teeth like cement.
Even so, I'd like to see Starbucks reformulate this treat, possibly nixing the pretzels and the top layer in favor of a salted caramel square with chocolate curls and pecan pieces on top, or replacing the nuts and pretzel pieces with crisp rice. That, I'd be all over.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax