Disclaimer: Most of the information in this guide is sourced from my heart, memories, and the internet. Has anyone ever tried to find individually-wrapped snack cakes in NYC? It's nearly impossible! What kind of world are we living in?
I was thrilled to find the last time we chatted snack cakes, you all were as pumped as I was. As we continue our exploration into the bright, individually wrapped, cream-filled world of snack cakes, I figured we needed to lay some groundwork. So, without further ado, here is a field guide to snack cakes. (Except it's not really a field guide at all because it's got my opinions all up in it.) Leave yours in the comments!
The Top Brands
There seem to be four key players in this game: Drake's, Hostess, Tastykake and Little Debbie. Each brand has its virtues. Drake's is #1 in my heart, and famous for its Seinfeld-approved coffee cakes. The nearly-departed Hostess is home to the iconic Twinkie and signature cupcake. Tastykake has a fanatic following in Pennsylvania and I've been told the products are more "natural-tasting" and Little Debbie, perhaps the most original of the bunch, which boasts unique treats like the Oatmeal Creme Pie, Cosmic Brownies, and Zebra Cakes.
Rolled Cream-Filled Chocolate Covered Cake
Hostess: HoHo's; Drakes: Yodels; Little Debbie and TastyKake: Swiss Rolls
We might as well start with the king of snack cakes, IMO. My personal method of eating them is gently unrolling, possibly licking off most of the cream, and then eating the moist cake and the wonderful, paper-thin flaky chocolate coating. And can we talk about the fact that, at least with Yodels, they come three to a pack? THREE TO A PACK.
Round Cream-Filled Chocolate Covered Cake
Hostess: Ding Dongs; Drake's: Ring Dings; Little Debbie: Cocoa Cremes; Tastykake: Chocolate Bells
Same delicious flavors as the rolled cake, perhaps with more cream and more chocolate coating. Personally, I would never choose these over the roll version, especially since they only come two to a pack.
Plain Chocolate Cream-Filled Cakes
Hostess: Suzy Q's; Drakes: Devil Dogs; Little Debbie: Devil Cremes; Tastykake: N/A
I'm going to try to be nice here, since my dad created a Serious Eats account solely to reprimand me for criticizing Devil Dogs in my last snack cake post. Here you find two oblong, unadorned chocolate sponge cakes with a nice hefty layer of cream in the middle. I'm guessing they are popular because of their size, though I personally cannot get behind these without a chocolate coating. I'm sorry, I just CAN'T.
Cream-Filled Yellow Cake
Hostess: Twinkies; Drake's: Zoinks; Little Debbie: Cloud Cakes; Tastykake: Dreamies
I'm trying to be professional in my naming conventions, but these are unmistakably Twinkies. Possibly the most well-known and often-discussed snack cake of all time. To be honest, I don't get it. There's something about the flavor of the cake I just don't love, plus it's kind of dry! But, clearly, people love Twinkies.
Hostess: Snowballs; Drake's: N/A; Little Debbie: N/A; Tastykake: Snowballs
These bright pink coconut-covered chocolate cakes with cream filling have always fascinated me. The key here is the massive layer of marshmallow fluff between the chocolate cake and coconut coating.
Fruit Pies, Cupcakes, Muffins, Donuts, Buns, Coffee Cake
These "generic" treats beg to be discussed here, as the "snack cake" versions of them are pretty distinctive.
Fruit Pies: A true "snack-cake" pie should have such a thick layer of sugary glaze on top that it resembles frosted glass. Little Debbie and Hostess make a strong showing, while TastyKake offers both glazed and unglazed versions, in exotic flavors like Tasty Klair and Pineapple Cheese. Drake's remains oddly silent in this category.
Cupcakes: Once again, Hostess has really owned that signature squiggle-topped cupcake. There are claims (ahem, Wikipedia, ahem) that Hostess truly was the originator of this cupcake. I think it's fascinating that these lowbrow treats have been imitated in gourmet cupcake shops around the country. For me, it's all about that thick layer of fudge. There is also a huge place in my heart for the Hostess Orange Cupcake. I have no idea why Hostess decided of all the flavors to go with orange, but I'm sure glad they did. TastyKake offers a huge variety of cupcakes, all sporting this fascinating "sheet" of frosting on top. Drake's again stays oddly silent, and Little Debbie has a signature squiggle cupcake as well as a Cosmic Cupcake, as in Cosmic Brownies, which OMG WE'LL GET TO LATER.
Muffins: A proper snack cake muffin is mini in size, blueberry, chocolate chip, or brownie in flavor (please spare me banana nut), and if squeezed, leave a disturbing amount of grease on your fingers. But muffins are totally healthy, right?
Donuts: Snack cake donuts are also mini in size, dense, super-moist, and cakey. Ideally, they come in a roll. Actually, it's Entenmann's that dominates this category, but that's another story for another time. (But Entenmann's Crumb-Topped Donuts AMIRITE?)
Buns: True confession: I've never tried a snack cake bun. The most common version is the honey bun. Its gargantuan size and formidable frosty glaze was too much for my young appetite. I sort of believe in my heart only truck drivers in movies eat these, but correct me if I'm wrong. No judgments here (mostly).
Coffee Cake: It's all about the streusel topping. It's ALL ABOUT THE STRUESEL TOPPING.
Assorted Brand Favorites
Many of these are new to me, but I thought I'd put a few highlights out there to see if anyone has love for the obscure snack cakes. Drake's and Hostess keep it pretty simple, while Tastykake and Little Debbie have some treats in their repertoires I had never heard of until now.
Krimpets: much like Hostess's Zingers, these oblong cakes have a frosted top and filling in the center. While Hostess keeps it simple with chocolate and lemon, TastyKake is rocking flavors like Butterscotch, PB&J, Pancake, and Spice Kake.
Kandy Kake: Circular cakes with a layer of peanut butter or vanilla cream, coated in chocolate. Not terribly exciting, but the website calls them iconic.
Bars: Ranging in flavors from Chocolate Chip to Fruit & Yogurt, these dry-looking bars don't look too appealing, but I could be wrong.
Kandy Bar Kakes: Inspired by actual candy bars, these sandwich cakes come in flavors like Almond Joy and Reese's.
(So many it almost deserves its own post, but I'll spare you)
Zebra Cakes, Fancy Cakes, and Seasonal Cakes: The classic Little Debbie cream-filled coated sandwich cake. Everything from Christmas Trees to Valentines Hearts to "Fall Party" Cakes. In truth, I tried one of these later in life and realize they ain't all that good, but the nostalgia factor here is huge.
Cookies: Oatmeal Creme Pies, not only delicious, but also: Honey I Shrunk the Kids! Also worth mentioning are Marshmallow Pies, Chocolate Chip Cream Pies, and Star Crunch. (Who the heck gets Raisin Crème Pies?)
Snack Bars: Nutty Bars, which are really more of a candy bar, are one of my top five treats of all time. Peanut Butter Crunch Bars and Caramel Cookie Bars are also notable in this category.
Cosmic Brownies: Dense, dry, oddly flavored brownie, thick fudgy layer of chocolate and small, candy coated pieces. SO DELICIOUS.
What am I missing? What are your favorites? Tell me in the comments!
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.