Few things can compare to freshly made baked goods. Cookies, cakes, muffins, pies, bread—the recipe options are endless. However, if you're short on time or simply don't feel like baking, paying a trip to the grocery store, such as Trader Joe's, could be a better alternative.
Unlike many grocery chains, Trader Joe's doesn't have an on-site bakery. Despite this, the retailer still offers a range of baked goods, though it doesn't openly share its suppliers with the public. As with anything else from TJ's, the selection features a mix of shelf mainstays and limited-time seasonal options. While the grocer boasts plenty of variety, one question remains: which baked goods are the best?
To pinpoint the most superior sweets at Trader Joe's, I rounded up 10 different baked goods, ensuring I included a mix of seasonal fall items and classic desserts. Then, I recruited two hungry, dessert-loving friends. As we sampled each baked good, we judged the flavor and texture of each one while also taking note of the appearance. Here's how the sweet treats compared, which I ranked in descending order, from my least favorite to the most mouthwatering baked good.
Glazed Maple Donuts
Trader Joe's is currently selling a variety of fall items, one being its Glazed Maple Donuts. This returning favorite consists of a traditional cake doughnut infused with maple syrup, cut into a star-shaped cruller, and covered in a sweet maple glaze. A six-count box cost me $4.49.
The look: These cruller-shaped doughnuts had a faint shimmer on their shell-like exterior, thanks to the sweet maple coating. The inside showcased a cakey, somewhat dry texture.
The taste: Once I opened this box of doughnuts, an intense maple scent diffused into the air, offering a preview of the extreme sweetness that would soon overwhelm me. Beyond the initial bite, there was a strong maple syrup aftertaste that continued to linger in my mouth. "You have to be a real maple fan to eat that," one of my friends noted.
Pumpkin Spiced Madeleine Cookies
TJ's puts an autumn twist on classic French madeleines by giving them the pumpkin spice treatment. Each package contains five madeleines, which are flavored with pumpkin powder and ground spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove. I purchased these for $3.29.
The look: These bright orange cakes—or, cookies, depending on whom you ask—were all uniform in size, showcasing the dessert's signature shell shape. While the madeleines appeared spongy, they had a crumbiness to them that made me question whether they'd end up tasting dry.
The taste: As suspected, the madeleines were slightly dry, though they still had a soft, cushiony texture to them. Additionally, the flavor tasted a bit artificial. "Nothing special," one friend declared. "Too plain [and] boring," another one said.
Sea Salt Brownie Bites
As the name implies, these Sea Salt Brownies tout a sweet and salty dessert experience. According to Trader Joe's, the salt is intended to "amplify all that chocolatey goodness." An eight-count package cost me $2.99.
The look: These looked like typical brownies—moist and fudgy, with some having more cracks than others. However, what made these slightly more unique than the standard chocolatey treat was the faint appearance of salt crystals shimmering across the top.
The taste: As a brownie fan, I was a bit disappointed by this variety, since I remembered enjoying these in the past. While I appreciate the inclusion of sea salt in desserts, this one was just too salty for me. Although Trader Joe's says the sea salt is "sprinkled" on top, it seemed like it was incorporated throughout. However, these brownie bites still had some positive qualities. Getting past the saltiness, the brownies were still fudgy, while the chocolate chips offered some texture.
Almond Danish Pastry
Unlike most of the other baked goods, Trader Joe's Almond Danish Pastries didn't have any form of a description on the packaging. Based on the appearance, I was led to believe the danish would be similar to an almond croissant, filled with some sort of almond paste. This pastry has seven servings and cost me $4.99.
The look: One word: beautiful. The pastry's dough was perfectly golden brown and flaky, while the toasted almond slivers promised some additional crunch. Though the dough was lightly dusted in powdered sugar, I would have liked to see more of it.
The taste: This pastry was the most difficult to cut, causing me to wonder if it sat on the shelf for a while. Contrary to its picture-perfect, flaky appearance, the dough was on the stiffer side, making me wish I had heated it up in the oven prior to taking a bite. In terms of the flavor, the almond paste was both slightly nutty and sweet, while the dough was quite plain. I think a generous dusting of powdered sugar, in addition to being warmed up in the oven, could have made a significant difference.
Trader Joe's Pancake Bread is one of those items that has always caught my eye but never ended up in my shopping cart. Described by the retailer as a "twist on a buttermilk short stack, baked into a sweet moist loaf," this sweet treat excited me the most. I purchased it for $4.99.
The look: This eight-inch loaf featured a pale beige layer covered in crumbs and cracks. Upon cutting into it, I was greeted by a crumbly, golden cake-like texture.
The taste: My taste testers and I all agreed this item was interesting—but in a good way. The texture was soft and moist, while the flavor was subtly sweet, delivering just a hint of pancake flavor with faint notes of maple. One of my friends described this as "pleasantly plain." The mild sweetness, combined with the crumbliness, also reminded me of cornbread, leading me to believe this could pair well with savory foods, too.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
Trader Joe's shoppers have raved about the grocery chain's gluten-free muffins in the past, with some even sharing on Reddit that they couldn't tell an offering was gluten-free. The limited-time Gluten-Free Pumpkin Streusel Muffins are made with a base of white and brown rice flours, corn starch, and potato starch, along with pumpkin purée. They're topped with cinnamon-sugar pumpkin spice bits and a spiced streusel topping, as well. I picked up a package of four for $5.99.
The look: Within each muffin wrapper were brownish orange cakes with what appeared to be speckles of spice, probably cinnamon. The streusel topping was lightly sprinkled across the top of the muffin, with a couple of oats randomly scattered throughout.
The taste: The pumpkin flavor was apparent, but not nearly as pronounced as I expected. Meanwhile, the spices, which included cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, made their presence known. While one taste tester said she could tell this muffin was gluten-free, noting its slight grittiness, the soft, moist texture had me almost forgetting this fact. Additionally, we all concluded that adding more streusel to the top of the muffin would have been a considerable enhancement.
The specialty grocer pairs fudge brownie batter with chocolate chip cookie dough to create the ultimate mashup dessert: the Brookie. Trader Joe's states on its website that this dessert has a "slightly soft, tender center with a gloriously chewy edge." I picked up the eight-count package for $4.49.
The look: The cookie layer of these brookies had a dry flakiness to them, but when I looked at the side of the dessert, the dough appeared undercooked and somewhat wet. The brownies had a moister appearance, as well, though I passed this off as being fudgy.
The taste: Despite being topped with cookie batter, the only flavor I could initially detect was the rich, fudgy brownie. However, as a chocolate fanatic, I didn't consider this to be a weakness. That being said, this hybrid treat leaned on the underbaked side and had some greasiness, which gave it a slight heaviness. "It really does taste batter-y," one friend said.
Cinnamon Coffee Cake
This dessert isn't a limited-time offering, but it can certainly help you get into the fall spirit. TJ's Cinnamon Coffee Cake consists of a sour cream cake with a brown sugar swirl, topped with a cinnamon crumble. Yielding eight servings, this item cost me $5.99.
The look: The top part of this cake is blanketed in a darker brown cinnamon crumble, with certain areas boasting clusters of crunchy cinnamon. The edges were crispy, as well.
The taste: I've had this coffee cake before, and I've enjoyed it each time. The inside is moist, while the cinnamon crumble offered some crunch. Overall, it's a pretty standard coffee cake that would pair well with a hot beverage. However, I wished the crumble was sprinkled on more generously, as that's arguably the best part of any coffee cake. Some powdered sugar would have taken it up a notch, too. Even so, the dessert is sweet without being overpowering.
The Sea Salt Chocolate Chunk Cookie
TJ's shoppers have sung high praises about these cookies on Reddit, so I was curious to see if they lived up to the hype. Available in packages of three for $3.99, each cookie features chocolate chunks and sea salt.
The look: Measuring about 4.5 inches across, this baked good was the epitome of a chocolate chunk cookie. The cracks offered an appetizing visual texture, while the edges were slightly darker and crispy-looking, filling me with excitement, since I'm a crunchy cookie fan. Chocolate chunks were interspersed throughout the dough, and a few salt crystals peaked through.
The taste: Unlike the brownies, the sea salt was a welcome addition to these chocolate chunk cookies, offering some depth to the cookie's flavor profile. There was also a notable butteriness to these. As far as the texture, the cookies were slightly chewy, while the edges had a bite to them, which I appreciated. Still, there was another dessert that surpassed all of my expectations.
Apple Cinnamon Buns
Priced at $4.49 for a box of two, Trader Joe's Apple Cinnamon Buns feature a cinnamon-apple compote and a streusel-like topping. I warmed these in the oven at 350 degrees for about five minutes, as per the box's instructions.
The look: Out of all the baked goods included in this taste test, the appearance of these buns drew me in the most. The dough was golden brown, with the apple cinnamon filling emerging from the twisted knots. The lightly colored crumb topping added another eye-catching component to the swirl-shaped dessert.
The taste: The decision was unanimous: these buns were clearly the best. The flavor was well-balanced, delivering notes of tart apples and sweet cinnamon and sugar, encapsulating the season of fall in one bite. In terms of the texture, the dough was delightfully flaky, yet soft, which was likely enhanced by the item's short time in the oven. "I'm going to 100% buy them. I can eat that at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.," one of my friends said. My only qualm with this item? That it's only in stores for a limited time.