A decade back, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal had a mascot. He was a stocky little chef, white as a snowman from hat to chubby cheeks, and not entirely unlike the Pillsbury Doughboy with spectacles. A few years ago, General Mills apparently decided this was stupid. And now the mascot is a tan square with zany cartoon eyes. That wasn’t the end of the innovation either. Since 2017, the brand has rolled out iterations of CTC like a sugary zeitgeist in a one-horse open sleigh.
French Toast Crunch, Chocolate Churro Toast Crunch, Dulce de Leche Toast Crunch. It doesn’t matter, the masses go wild for international treats fused with both toast and crunch. But the best one of the bunch is Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch. Never mind that sugar cookies are never on toast and the title of this breakfast food (as well as everything else about it) is nonsensical.
Come November, the bright red box adorns cereal aisles like an advent calendar. This is a seasonal item now baked into our holiday traditions. The little brownish-square mascots (which are presumably toast but also now cookies?) are all rugged up in scarves and ski goggles and little gift bows. On the box, they’re dredged in snow-milk waves so hard their eyes are popping with excitement, just begging you to eat this “naturally flavored” cereal.
Upon opening the carton, the scent hits like a late-nineties Mrs. Fields at the mall. The texture is identical to regular Cinnamon Toast Crunch, down to the coated rice and wheat bits dusted with a sweet yet unidentifiable powder. This version has less of a cinnamon hit and tastes the way a cheap “Bake Shop” candle from Dollar Tree smells. As cheap and familiar as a suburban holiday. The cookie flavor (again, this is somehow “natural”) is surprisingly accurate, which leads me to believe we may just be eating pure sugar. With each crunch, subtle vanilla and rich butter undertones are reminiscent of grocery store dough in a pre-made tube.
As I eat, I notice one of the toasty square mascots on the box licking its own eyeball, and another one has teeth angled like it’s shivering. It’s so wintery of madcap General Mills. Bizarre mascots aside, what strikes me most is the sheer versatility of this cereal. With or without milk, it’s not half bad. You could pop it in a kid’s lunch box for a festive snack. It could top yogurt or garnish hot cocoa. You could even get meta and use the little bits as cookie decor.
At home one cold night, I ditch the box. I munch toasty manufactured goodness by the handful, like its popcorn, while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. I could be a chubby little baker-chef. Proud and warm, as if I pulled this feeling straight out of the oven. As if I baked it from scratch.