Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club periodically features Taste Tests. Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ’00s were a pretty crazy decade, made no less crazy by the taurine-laced wave of “energy” products that flooded shelves after the late-’90s success of Red Bull: If you wanted an artificial, eyeball-vibrating boost to power you through the increasingly cataclysmic 24-hour news cycle, you could get it in liquid, candy, or even jerky form. But as we enter the—what are we calling these, the tens? The teens?—there’s seemingly less and less reason to stay awake. The economy is still struggling, Mother Nature is getting her revenge on us on a seemingly weekly basis, and Toddlers And Tiaras is in its fifth season. It’s time for us all to take a good, long nap until things get less shitty, and after a decade spent injecting caffeine and taurine straight into our veins, a glass of warm milk ain’t gonna cut it.
Enter the newest buzzword in conscious-altering snacking: “chill.” We had an early encounter with this new, relaxed subspecies of foodstuff back in 2008 when we Taste-Tested Drank and found our rolls significantly slowed. Since then, Drank has been joined on the shelves by a bevy of similar products, such as iChill, Blue Cow, and Vacation In A Bottle, and while sales of relaxation drinks are still well below those of energy drinks, the rate at which new products are being released indicates we’re in the midst of a sea change.
Right on cue, the second wave of relaxation snacking has arrived with the introduction of Lazy Cakes, individually wrapped brownies with “relaxation baked right in.” Like Drank—which traded on the notoriety of “syrup” or “purple drank”—Lazy Cakes have distinctly druggy undertones, in spite of the press release’s assertion that you won’t find them “in shops that require medically authorized identification to enter.” (Except you totally will.) Lazy Cakes mascot “Lazy Larry,” a droop-eyed brownie with a dopey smile, looks decidedly, um, baked, an implication that’s strengthened by the emphasis on the word “baked” in the slogan. All that’s missing is a big ol’ marijuana leaf—though the brownie mascot’s green accessories and the psychedelic purple background are a none-too-subtle substitute.
But alas, it isn’t the demon weed that gives Lazy Cakes their powers of chillaxation; rather, it’s a combination of natural, legal-in-all-50-states sleep aids like valerian root, rose hips, and melatonin. Anyone who’s taken valerian root or melatonin supplements knows they aren’t to be fucked around with, and if you haven’t, the “for adults only” sticker and label warning not to drive after eating Lazy Cakes should be good indicators. And yet when a box of Lazy Cakes arrived at the office, all we could think was, “Hey, sorta-pot-brownies! Party!”
Well, initially at least. Then it also occurred to us that this would be a good time to pull out another Taste Testable item that had long been sitting on the shelf: Jacked Up Java brownies, made from a highly caffeinated mix distributed by Celebration Generation Cakes at a hefty $14 per bag. Because as much as we might joke about needing to slow our rolls and chillax and counteract all that taurine in our system, we still live in America, land of living on the edge and being extreme at all times by pounding as much pick-me-up as can possibly be legal, and then base-jumping off a building or something while yelling Poochie catchphrases. And after relaxing with some chill-brownies, we knew we’d need to get our rolls back up to speed again. Besides, it was an excuse to eat twice as many brownies, which is also highly American.
“Caffeinated brownies” may sound like a purely chemical concatenation, like caffeinated water, but when we set out to bake them, we found out they’re largely caffeinated the old-fashioned way: The mix is laced with guarana, but it’s also full of “mashed coffee beans”—and unmashed ones as well. There are actually a sizeable number of whole or coarsely fragmented roasted coffee beans in these brownies, giving them an almost overwhelming coffee smell and some fairly serious (and slightly gritty) crunch. Several of our more reliable Taste Testers were leery of the obvious coffee level in the brownies, and elected only to eat a small bite of them, fussing over their “extreme sensitivity” to caffeine. Then they all complained later that they didn’t even get slightly wired from their sampling. Well duh, guys. In other news, tentatively licking the cap of a Coke bottle once won’t give you a pick-me-up either.
As for the rest of the office, we wound up diving into the Lazy Cakes on a Friday (as the video below shows) and sampling Jacked Up Java brownies more informally the following Monday. The Monday tasting consisted of a video-unfriendly string of people idly dropping by Tasha’s desk as if it were a Starbucks pastry case, perusing the brownies and deciding whether to sample them. The Friday Lazy Cakes tasting in the kitchen, on the other hand, was more of the communal party we’d initially imagined.
Taste: Well, inasmuch as a bunch of co-workers standing around in an office kitchen eating individually brownies can be considered a party. There really isn’t much to distinguish Lazy Cakes in terms of taste or appearance: They’re remarkably uniform in their squareness, and have a taste and consistency comparable to a Little Debbie brownie: kinda-moist, kinda-crumbly, with a little line of fudge-like-something-or-other in the middle. It’s a perfectly adequate, over-the-counter brownie (and tastier than your average pot brownie, NOT THAT WE’D KNOW ABOUT THAT). Truth be told, it was pretty underwhelming as taste sensations go, and we quickly returned to our desks to await the after-effects.
It hit some of us sooner than others—Kyle insisted he felt nothing for a good couple of hours—but when the Lazy Cakes hit, they hit hard. An initial heady, swoopy feeling soon gave way to drowsiness, then flat-out fatigue, making us all wonder what the hell we were thinking, eating sleep-aid brownies at 3:30 in the afternoon on a workday. Turns out the recommended serving of Lazy Cakes is a half a brownie, something we overlooked as we shoved a double dose of sedatives down our throats. (Because really, who eats half a brownie?) Brett, ever the Taste Test overachiever, ate two full brownies, and came to work the next day claiming he slept 11 hours the previous night. So yes, if you’re looking to eat a brownie and drift off into oblivion, Lazy Cakes are the product for you. But those looking for a legal substitute for a “special” brownie are in for disappointment. Sleepy, sleepy disappointment.
The Jacked Up Java brownies, being home-baked, made for a more palatable brownie experience, although it should be noted that these are some seriously rich confections. Your average Betty Crocker/Duncan Hines/etc. brownie mix calls for a quarter-cup of oil and a few eggs to be added to the mix; Jacked Up Java brownies require four eggs and a full pound of melted butter. The resulting batter is pretty oily, and the brownies themselves come out crisp, flat, and flaky, almost as though they’ve been fried in butter. They have a strong dark-chocolate taste—there are big chocolate chips in there as well as the coffee beans—and a heavy overtone of dark-roast coffee. Basically, if you dunked a homemade flourless chocolate cake in black-tar coffee and let it dry out on the counter overnight, this is what it would taste like.
• “Are you sure this isn’t a Little Debbie?”
• “Yup, tastes like a brownie.”
• “The brownies were dry and didn’t have much chocolate flavor.”
• “Walnuts are a standard brownie ingredient, right? I really miss having nuts in my mouth right now.”
• “If the point of a Lazy Cake is to make me want to crawl under my desk for a nap, then I’d say it’s doing its job. However, a plate of brownies does pretty much the same thing.”
• “This is not at all like being high. This is more like the feeling I get after eating a large sandwich.”
• “It’s the NyQuil of chocolaty snack cakes.”
Jacked Up Java brownies
• “I think my mouth is buzzing.”
• “You realize there are coffee beans in this? Like, actual coffee beans. I can see them.”
• “That’s better than a normal brownie or coffee.”
• “Eh, I prefer my coffee liquid and my brownies soft and moist.”
• “I have to get away from these, or I’m going to eat another one because they’re so good, and then I might never sleep again.”
• “I can’t believe there are so many brownies left over. Why isn’t everyone eating brownies?” “Have you had one yet? One’s about all anyone can handle. It’s like drinking coffee cut with melted chocolate syrup.”
• “That's some serious juju in those little dealies.”
• “I didn’t get that much of a sense of caffeine off of them, but I really liked them as brownies. I love chocolate and I love coffee, so it made for a good combination.”
• “I wouldn’t say I got a caffeine buzz, but my tolerance for caffeine is significant, so the fact that I didn't get a headache from lack of caffeine speaks to their potency.”
• “I ate a full brownie and I wasn't feeling the effects until about 6 p.m. I stayed in the office working until 9:30 p.m., and kept working until 3 a.m. I think the brownie definitely had something to do with my willingness to stay up so late.”
• “I'm going to be eating these every time I take a road trip from now on.”
Where to get them: Lazy Cakes are available in convenience stores in “select markets,” as well as online at mylazycakes.com. Jacked Up Java brownie mix is sold at the Celebration Generation Cakes site, alongside mixes for caffeinated cookies and chai blondies.