When I was a freshman in college I had to take a philosophy class called ‘The Classical Mind’. It was horribly boring and was taught by a man who looked like he should be teaching at Harvard circa 1853, but looking back on it now, it was honestly one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken in my life. In any case, one of the things Professor Krause (pronounced KrowSE) had us read was Plato’s The Republic. Aside from instilling me with a belief in the virtues of Republicanism over all over forms of government (including democracy), The Republic introduced me to the Theory of Forms. Asserting that material objects we perceive in this world are but incomplete shadows of the complete and untold awesomeness of abstract Substances in a higher realm, the theory comes with the caveat that we can never really know the innate greatness of these Substances.
To the American cereal eater, French Toast Crunch is a lot like the Form of perfect cereal. No longer available on shelves in America, it exists more as a conception of half-recalled memories hinting at an almost metaphysical tasting experience from our youths, an experience which we acknowledge to exist separately in a state above us. That state is Canada, and aside from hosting summer football with 12 guys and three downs, it also hosts my favorite blog reader. Recently, she sent me a box, and like Chewbacca’s life debt to Han Solo, I am forever indebted to her because of her noble actions.
I bring this all up because what you are about to see pushes the bounds of metaphysics, and threatens the very philosophical underpinnings which keep us filling our morning bowls here in the states. And please note: the following photos were not taken in the 1990s. They were not taken in some forest in an unidentified Canadian location. They are in fact fresh and the late February sun, and situated in God’s own US of freaking A. Yes, my fellow American cereal eaters, I bring you the long-awaited review of French Toast Crunch.
Receiving a box of French Toast Crunch from that foreign and exotic land of toothless hockey players and red-coated police people presented an unexpected conundrum. Like beholding a vintage Grand Admiral Thrawn action figure still in the case, I was at first seized by the notion of tearing into my box of French Toast Crunch with all the fury of a sabertooth tiger. But the thought of discovering that the allure of French Toast Crunch — or, to borrow from Plato, the Form of Kids Cereal itself — could never live up to the actual pieces of maple flavored goodness…well, that gave me some pause. Suddenly, I just wanted to sit and admire the cereal, perhaps placing it on my bookcase next to my Utah State Diploma and my autographed Doug Flutie football card. Hey, did you know Doug Flutie’s played in Canada but was born in Marland? Dum dum dum…
I decided against it just admiring my box though. For better or for worse, I needed to know. I, a cereal eater aficionado, needed to know if the cereal we Yanks have always proclaimed to be the best ever is truly the best ever, or if we’ve sold ourselves to the prosaic nostalgia of time, imagining something that either never was, or can never be quite as we think it was. And so, I opened the box.
The initial flavor fails to deliver. The smell is not as intense as I’d expected (granted, I had high expectations), displaying a light, one might guess Grade A Light Amber synthetic quality to it. A faint aroma of glazed corn flour, not dissimilar to corn pops, rises from the mixture, which displays puffed pieces of truly golden toast pieces. It does not resemble the latter evolution of French Toast Crunch in America which I seem to recall.
That version was similar to Cinnamon Toast Crunch in that it was wheat and rice flour based. The Canadian version, or the “true” French Toast Crunch as I’ve been told, is made exclusively of corn derived products. The taste, as well as the glaze, resembles Corn Pops, and likewise, the puffed nature of the cereal allows for a very respectable serving size if you’re going by density. And I always do.
I am scientific and methodical in my initial forays. With no milk in the house and a preference to eat most sugary cereals (including CTC) plain, I alternate between sampling one piece at a time and chucking six or seven into my mouth. The glaze has a slight cinnamon flavor and a pleasant mouthfeel that doesn’t strike me as cheap as corn pops. It’s not as sweet as I imagined, but crunches more than I could have anticipated. There’s a certain “shred your mouth” crunch effect that reverberates in your skull, and I say that in a good way. The edges are sweeter than the interior, and while slight black specs give me pause for the cereal cause, I don’t notice any increased of flavor. The maple is there, but it’s light. Complex to a point, I nevertheless can’t deem it as any more authentic than Waffle Crisp or Eggo.
And that’s when it hits you. The moment when the novelty of that Grand Admiral Thrawn action figure dissipates. The realization that the book series you’ve been reading is about to end in a whimper and not a bang (oh God, please don’t let me experience that in two weeks). The inevitable writing on the wall that while good, the ideal is only the ideal when it is still just that, a freaking, you-can’t-have-me ideal. And when the ball drops, and you’re left with something good and bordering on great but truly not outstanding?
That’s when you realize you’re glad you finally know. Because French Toast Crunch is a good cereal, but so far, at least, it’s not the best cereal I’ve ever had. It’s better than Corn Pops. It’s different, and in some ways, superior to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But it’s not Waffle Crisp. And hell yes I’ll say it, it’s not even close.
But I’m O.K. with that, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m reserving final judgement until later this week, when a test in milk will determine if the magical properties of lactose can increase the french toastification of French Toast Crunch. For now though, I’ll be brutally honest with you. This is a very good cereal, but it cannot, as it has done so for some many of us, affix in our collective conscious as sugar-loving Americans the merits of Kids Cereal Form. It cannot be the 11 out of 10 on the scale of 10; the mythical memory of every nine-year old gathered on his or her couch with bowl and spoon and watching One Saturday Morning. That ideal, that platonic Form of which being a kid was about, that still holds over us with a question mark. For the time being I will enjoy the spicy, crunchy flavor of French Toast Crunch, but more importantly, I’ll be stocking up on Waffle Crisp until kingdom come. Because now I know that what I’ve long-held as the absolute pinnacle of cereals — Waffle Crisp — really is the pinnacle of the cereal shadows we see in our wordly cave.