Some things just make sense together. Like peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and jelly. Or peanut butter and bananas. Or peanut butter and analogies about things that go well together.
Oh, and chocolate and marshmallows, I guess.
That’s why it makes no sense that it took ’til 2017 for General Mills to realize just how many cents they’d make by putting mini marshmallows in Cocoa Puffs. From the humble Mallo Cup to being 2/3 of the iconic s’more, chocolate and marshmallows have a long history of delightfully gumming up people’s teeth.
But hot cocoa/hot chocolate (I refuse to take a stance on which name is better. As I’ve said before, I’m staying as neutral as a packet of Swiss Miss) is perhaps the most memorably cozy pairing of the two. Therefore, the only explanation for why this took so long is that Sonny always flies south for the winter. I’m willing to forgive him for going AWOL for Cocoa Puffs, so long as his redundantly named Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs are good. Since my childhood self used to think hot cocoa was made by microwaving chocolate milk, the bar is pretty low.
The bad news is that these are just plain ol’ Cocoa Puffs. There’s no added burst of taste alchemy to make the naturally flavored chocolate corn puffs taste like they’ve been dusted with caramelized milk chocolate or glazed with alpine cocoa butter.
But the good news is that after tasting Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs, I’ve finally realized just how much plain ol’ Cocoa Puffs really taste like hot chocolate. Every chocolate cereal does a different rendition of its namesake sweet-bean product, but Cocoa Puffs’ very literal take on confectioner-sweetened cocoa powder, mixed with the inherent toastiness and even light saltiness of its puffs, is very similar to the homely milk chocolate granularity of instant hot chocolate.
Did you all feel that? No, it wasn’t a winter breeze: it was a wave of air displacement caused by every Child of Martha Stewart out there forcefully turning their noses up at the mention of instant hot cocoa. We can’t all be gourmands, Martha: at least I’ve evolved past nuked 2%.
Of course, the key missing factor here is milkiness, which the marshmallows make a concerted effort at replicating.
And the result is a mixed Jet-Puf bag of success and shortcoming. While the ‘mallows’ snappy, lightly chewy texture forms a fun, contrasting mouthfeel with the crispy puffs, they lack a unique flavor, making them little more than booster packs for the puffs’ natural sweetness: if this were a breakfast bowl-playing game, they’d be +4 Marshmallances of Divine Saccharine Smiting. I know flavored marshmallows are rare, but a drop of vanilla or buttermilk would’ve gone a long way.
That’s why milk is essential for eating Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs. By washing out the offensive corniness that otherwise ruins our “crunchy winter beverage” immersion, milk tames one of Cocoa Puffs’ key weaknesses. It also melds the residual cocoa and sugar essences of puff and ‘mallow alike, leaving behind a delightfully slurpable (if not microwaveable), Hershey’s-chocolate-syrup-tinged endmilk, the sort of drink I’d expect to find on a Starbucks kids menu.
So while Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs are just sugar-stilted Cocoa Puffs, in a season of simply sweet pleasures, there’s nothing wrong with that. This cereal still has some of the shortcomings that plague all corn puff cereals: excessive aeration, a weak crunch, and the never-fully-extinguished popcorn aftertaste. But I’d definitely recommend swapping it into your holiday breakfast rotation (over the comparatively unoriginal Cinnamon Vanilla Lucky Charms) for a tidy dose of merriment that won’t leave you as Santa-sized as an oodle of snickerdoodles.
Though I promise not to tell Martha Stewart if you mix this cereal into your cookie dough.
The Bowl: General Mills Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs Cereal
The Breakdown: What Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs lacks in wow-factor, it makes up for in pure coziness, nostalgia, and simple goodness from its new blend of familiar cocoa, corn, and marbit flavors. This is the cereal you have to pair with your annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
The Bottom Line: 8 ghosts of chocolate milks past out of 10