I warned y’all that as soon as July’s long nights began to fade Halloween would be right around the corner and I’m happy to announce that pumpkin season has officially begun. Aside from cookies and ice cream, cereal is probably one of the biggest pumpkin spice revelations of the last couple years and the cinnamon-heavy spiced profile is one that works really well in tandem with the oat-y and grainy boxes of breakfast crunch. One of the returning pumpkin remixes this year is Special K, and while it’s popping up in a brand new box on shelves now, I found a (non-expired) old school one at my local discount grocery and felt it was a fitting way to ease into the season.
Finally, for the first time since April’s Boston Cream Pie we have a new Baskin Robbins Flavor of the Month. Maybe I just got spoiled since this blog launched in late 2016 but four retreads in a row feels like an awful lot, especially since three of them were just from the year prior and not a shadowed fan favorite like Oreo ‘N Cake. This month’s new-new is pretty intriguing, putting a frozen twist on one of dessert’s finest and fanciest finger foods. Caramel Cream Puff combines salted caramel ice cream and pastry cream-flavored mousse ice cream with burnt sugar crystals, pastry pieces, and a burnt caramel swirl.
First things first – Baskin Robbins have changed their cups, and when you live in my funny little universe that kinda feels like a big deal. The blue on blue is a nice switch up from the vibrant pink and I like the cooling aesthetic. In addition to the cool new cup, this cool new scoop is pretty damn satisfying as well.
The pastry cream-flavored mousse has an intense richness and hearty fluff to it that really does remind me of the inside of a cream puff. The mousse texture stands out along with pronounced creamy vanilla notes for a very unique base that’s both delicious and accurate. The salted caramel ice cream, at least in this scoop, very much played the supporting role with just slight caramel tones peaking through the mousse, which is a good thing because I’m not a huge fan of BR’s Salty Caramel base.
The dopest part of this flavor are the burnt sugar crystals, which taste just like the caramelized top of a crème brulee. They crunch and crack with awesome deep burnt sugar flavor and a perfectly stark textural contrast to the rich mousse. The pastry pieces are nice and chewy, but much like the outside of an actual cream puff or eclair they don’t pack much flavor.
I wish I had gotten more burnt caramel swirl, but what I did get was tasty. Whispy and slightly syrupy the caramel adds an extra hint of sweetness and gooey texture that compliments the density of the base really well. Towards the bottom I got more of the salty caramel ice cream and can confirm it’s pretty lackluster, and while there actually was a decent ratio of it in the scoop I didn’t taste it too much because of how mellow it is. This would have been a stronger scoop if BR went harder on the swirl and stuck to just one base, but still, the caramel vibes do come through.
Caramel Cream Puff is a unique and pretty well executed scoop that’s a very welcome breath of fresh air for the 31 flavored brand, and while it’s not stop-in-your-tracks fantastic it’s one that’s worth a trip to the shop during the last full month of summer.
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($3.19)
I could’ve sworn the Neapolitan resurgence was over. After Peeps, M&M’s, and Cocoa Puffs did their best to revive the tri-flavor palate earlier in the year it felt like a done deal; but never leave out sneaky stylish Trader Joe’s when it comes to cashing in on a new trend. Last year the company released two of the best new sandwich cookies with Matcha Joe Joe’s and Mocha Joe Joe’s both being incredibly strong contenders holding their own against the handful of gems Nabisco dropped amid their flurry of Oreo’s. A quiet cookie drop to mark the last month of summer feels like a fitting way for Trader Joe’s to ease into the holiday insanity they’ve become known for. Neapolitan Joe Joe’s combine one chocolate wafer with one vanilla wafer and a strawberry crème filling.
We all like to get a little high. My favorite way to start the day is a nice caffeine buzz, and the best way to end that day is with a nice creamy scoop. While every day doesn’t end with ice cream, you betcha every morning breaks with a steaming cup of the blackest of the black, so it should be no surprise that fusing these two joys of life seems nearly as common as chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. Fueling all of our favorite crutches, Vice have come through with Higher Grounds, which combines a dark roast coffee ice cream with a mocha fudge swirl, chocolate cookie crumbles, and espresso pillows.
This is a really great coffee ice cream. It’s bursting with dark and bold coffee flavor and just enough sweetness to keep it in the realm of sugary desserts. The bittersweet intensity is rounded out beautifully by a perfectly smooth and dense creamy texture that finishes with pure lush dairy notes. It’s by far the best base I’ve had from Vice and one of the better coffee flavored ones I’ve had from the grocery store in general.
The element of this flavor I was the most curious about are the “espresso pillows” and it turns out that’s just a really cute name for chocolate covered espresso beans. The pillows are bold and crunchy with a strong coffee bean flavor that cuts through the intense coffee presence of the ice cream for a real coffee lovers treat. The bittersweet chocolate coating adds a touch of sweetness to the dark party and I really love chomping on beans intermittently during this caffeine-fueled cream dream.
It’s hard to tell how much coffee flavor is in the mocha swirl among all the other coffee-forward elements but it’s syrupy and adds a nice different texture to the overall experience. In an ideal world it might be a little thicker to live up to the “fudge” name, but as it stands with its Hershey’s syrup swagger it’s perfectly acceptable and does its job well.
The cookie crumbles are the least interesting part of the mix, but also the only one without coffee so they’re a pretty necessary component. They’re little crunchy balls that remind me of a chocolate topping that would come with a cookie-themed yogurt, and I don’t dislike them but don’t really love them either. I would have really enjoyed some Oreo’s or more varied pieces of cookie, but the constant presence of the crunchy bits brings a nice toothiness to the pint that holds up.
Higher Grounds isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means but it’s a damn fine coffee ice cream for those who really like their flavors big and bold. Super creamy, super potent, this pint is a winner.
Found at: Safeway ($4.99)
Now that it’s officially the last week of July it’s time to get those spice-engines-a-revvin’. Sure, there’s bound to be some more beautiful berries in my future, but from August through December it’s a lock for my tastebuds to get warm and cuddly. Aside from the ever-prominent pumpkin spice and gingerbread, nothing screams spicy splendor quite like speculoos, and when you put that flavor into an ice cream? Real summer finale fireworks potential. Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel combines a speculoos cookie butter ice cream with cinnamon spiced cookie crumbles and caramel.
Gelato Fiasco are a Maine-based gelato company who began scooping to locals in 2007 and have since found distribution in over 2,000 grocery stores in the United States. They’re one of those East coast companies who’s presence has been pretty meager in the Bay Area, but as with many smaller brands, 2018 has seen a rise in their visibility and some of the more unique flavors are starting to pop up on my side of town. As a company that strives to “offer bold, intense flavors with a dessert whose commitment to quality and integrity is unmatched” I’m pretty stoked to delve into their creamy universe. Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel combines a mascarpone gelato with pistachio nuggets and a caramel sauce.
I was really looking forward to scooping this flavor and I’ve gotta admit, I’m fairly bored with it. The mascarpone base is relatively thin and lacking any of the rich cheesy funk that I’m looking for. It has a decent sweetness and isn’t bad, but it just isn’t exciting in any way. I know it’s a gelato so I’m not expecting a heavy fattiness, but the big pop of flavor I want, or even a subtle nuanced finesse simply isn’t there. It does have a good texture, although it finishes a bit thin, and is light years away from similar bases made by companies like Coolhaus.
The second letdown for me in this pint are the “pistachio nuggets” which to be quite honest are much more like pistachio flakes. I love pistachios, both poppin’ them out of their shell for a snack and as an ice cream mix-in, and they’re so finely chopped here that I barely get any of their unique fatty flavor or texture. They’re about the same size as the chopped peanuts that come with a McDonald’s sundae, which might work if they were sprinkled heavily on top, but they’re so thinly dispersed that I miss any real pistachio presence.
The best part about this flavor by far is the caramel sauce, which once again isn’t too prominent, but is very delicious. Thin and sweet with a slight touch of salt it has the consistency and flavor that I crave in a great swirl and the bites with a nice glob helped elevate the experience to something pretty enjoyable. Had there been some bigger pieces of pistachio to go along with the sauce I would have ate this one in sheer glee.
For an introductory review to the skillet this is a pretty mediocre outing, but I haven’t lost faith in Gelato Fiasco and will try a couple more flavors before moving on from the brand. I will never judge a company on one flavor alone, and this might just be a rare miss for a generally well regarded churner bursting their way into the west coast mainstream.
Found at: Sprouts ($5.99)
Note: you may have noticed the wild lack of photos in this review compared to my usual posts – somehow my other two or three pictures of this ice cream vanished 😦
It’s the last week of July, which in commercial snack land means Halloween is right around the corner. Yes, even though in California, and especially in the Bay, we have yet to hit our temperature max, I know in my spooky spicy cinnamon-pumping heart that once that second week of August rolls around there will be pumpkins EVERYWHERE. So before I start spiraling into the autumnal abyss, it seems fitting to cap things off with one last summery s’mores treat, especially since I’m a pretty big cheerleader for Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Spice Rolls. Little Debbie’s S’mores Cake Rolls combine a graham cake with crème filling and a chocolate drizzle.