REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Limited Batch One Love

Nothing says peace and love like ice cream. Maybe I’m biased, but think about it – when was the last time you were leisurely licking away at a scoop shop or comfortably couch-crushing a pint and felt any sort of malice towards anyone around you? How often are people clenching their fists in the frozen aisle or grimacing while staring into the cold case filled with cone-topping delights? Likely never, and it is with that sense of togetherness that Ben & Jerry’s have released their latest limited batch creation with Bob Marley’s One Love, which combines banana ice cream with caramel and graham cracker swirls and fudge peace sings…mon.

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It’s already been established that I’m a fan of banana ice cream and this is a great banana base. It’s velvety smooth and creamy with an authentic banana flavor that is just present enough to be very obvious without being overwhelming. Its profile is spot on perfectly ripened, not over-ripened, banana, with a great balance of fruity sweetness and dairy richness.

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I’m not sure why, but the fudge peace signs in here really kick ass. They snap with a great chocolatey crunch and finish with a smooth meltiness that feels both creamier and darker than the usual fudge flakes. I don’t know if they actually have different ingredients or it’s just the size and shape of the signs as opposed to the flakes, but these little cocoa circles are truly filling me with good vibrations.

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The caramel swirls are wonderfully integrated throughout the base and pool up in gorgeous golden spots throughout the pint. I’ve always loved the play of banana with caramel so it’s no surprise that it works really well here too. The caramel itself is standard B&J’s – thin, runny, and sweet with a mellow flavor – not dark, roasty, or salted at all, and does its job in adding a fun texture and an extra depth to the creamy banana vibes.

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Much less prominently featured is the graham cracker swirl, which seems to pop up mostly in tandem with the caramel. It has a soft but gritty texture and noticeable saltiness that cuts through all the other sweet-leaning elements in the pint, but there’s so little of it that it doesn’t become a very pronounced part of the experience. Towards the middle of the container I got a big congregation of graham and it was awesome. As a lover of the graham I wish there was more, but what is there adds something totally different than the other components and its taste and texture are great, despite being limited.

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Beautiful layer of graham

One Love is without a doubt my favorite of Ben & Jerry’s releases this year, and one that I would be happy to see stick around for the future. As an ice cream that was originally released as a U.K exclusive, hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for more of their inventive and interesting pints to make their way to the good ole U S of A.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Duc Loi Supermarket ($4.49)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (109g) – 290 cal – 15g fat – 8g sat fat – 115mg sodium – 36g carb – 29g sugar – 4g protein

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REVIEW: Little G’s Bangin’ Baklava

Baklava is a decadent pastry characterized by crispy layers of filo dough on top of gooey sweet honey and nuts, usually highlighting the pistachio. It originated in Istanbul, and I usually find it as a dessert option in Mediterranean restaurants after polishing off a tasty falafel wrap or chicken schwarma. I’ll never forget the first time I had baklava. I was at a Philz Coffee shop in 2009 shortly after moving to San Francisco and wanted a classic scone or cookie to go with my joe, but the only option was this puffy tan square that I had never seen before. From my first bite in I was taken aback by the flaky layers and caramelized richness of the nuts, and for the last eight years I’ve tried many varieties and enjoyed almost all of them. As much as I dig the dessert, I’ve never had it in frozen form, and leave it to Little G to pop my flavor cherry with an inventive and indulgent take on something I already know and love. It seemed only right that my first flavor to dive into from the 2017 Summer Favorite’s pack is Bangin’ Baklava, which combines honey ice cream with baklava chunks, candied walnuts, roasted pistachios, and a honey caramel swirl. Yikes!

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Honey ice creams are extremely underutilized, and when executed well are one of my favorite bases for a delicious scoop. No surprise here, Little G absolutely killed it with the honey base and the ice cream has a rich, golden sweet flavor that blends seamlessly with the high quality dairy for a big, luscious, true-to-the-bee flavor that leaves a lasting honey presence in my mouth buzzing with perfection. The honey notes aren’t subtle at all, but they aren’t cloying either – they’re dialed in and balanced with sugary sweet finesse that sings with success. My only concern is that there may be too much honey in the base, as it melts and breaks down really quickly, losing its ice cream character in the blink of an eye. 

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The pieces of baklava are impressive, and the filo dough has maintained all of its delightful crunchiness. Even submerged in a pint of cream the pastry crunches and I can feel the layers just like the first time I bit into the Mediterranean treat. The honeyed nuts on the inside of the dough accentuate the flavor of the base with a wonderful chewiness and the experience is a creamified version of eating baklava to a T. In classic Little G fashion the chunks are actually chunks and are sizable enough that I get all the elements I want from baklava spoonful after spoonful.

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The nuts are also super on point. The roasted pistachios are abundant enough that they add a bit of fatty, slightly savory relief from the generally sweet profile, but not so much that they take over entire bites like in last season’s White Chocolate Macadamia Nut MdoughW. I wish they were a touch more salted (or salted at all?) to add some more contrast, but that’s honestly just a nitpick-y preference and not a deal breaker in any way. The candied walnuts are also fantastic, I didn’t get very many in my pint, but when I did they were entire nuts perfectly caramelized and sweet with a sugary flavor that reminded me of Christmas. Even though I love the indulgence of getting whole nuts, it could have been more effective to cut them in half if each container is only going to get 3-4 so they come through more consistently. 

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This was the most aggressively tempered shipment I’ve gotten from Little G to date, and even after popping my order back into the freezer for awhile the pints were still pretty soft, and a lot of the honey caramel was integrated into the base, but pooled nicely at the bottom. When I was able to isolate it it was everything that it set out to be – slightly dark, rich caramel with some interesting, pleasantly astringent honey notes that set it apart from any other caramel I’ve had before. While it doesn’t stand out as much as a traditional caramel against vanilla or chocolate, it ties the baklava experience together with a lovely golden gooey ribbon further making this a fantastic, albeit a bit soft, ice cream-ed version of the traditional treat it aims to emulate.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: http://www.goldbely.com (use code seanpancake0 for $25 off of your first order!)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding

Salt & Straw’s June Rescued Food line of ice creams is one of the most interesting and engaging things I’ve seen a craft company do, and San Francisco got blessed with some seriously amazing flavors. Joining forces with SF based Food Runners, they took all of the unused pastries from bay area startup meetings and put them to good use, instead of in the trash can. While Food Runners usually take these baked goodies and deliver them to people in need, this month S&S bought them from the company and turned them into the fantastic Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding, which combines a spiced banana ice cream with chunks of bread pudding and a sesame caramel swirl.

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This is not your standard banana ice cream. Immediately the distinct flavor of squishy over ripened bananas smacks me in the face, with a taste that is so different and much sharper than what many banana bases offer. There’s a cutting, almost syrupy sweetness to hyper-ripe bananas that comes through beautifully and is balanced out and complimented by the high quality dairy. Rounding out the profile is a healthy dose of nutmeg, and with the use of that spice the banana base BECOMES banana bread ice cream, as the unique strong banana flavor mingling with spices and sweet honey notes is instantly recognizable as one of the most beloved quick breads in the game.

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For the actual bread part of the bread pudding equation, S&S made a cinnamon-spiked custard and tossed all of those destined-to-be-garbage pastries into it to create one big mismatched wheel of flavor. This is one of the most interesting elements of the flavor, as every pint, and likely every scoop, is going to be slightly different. I had a massive chunk of what felt like layers of crunchy filo dough or some kind of pie crust, and a bite with raisins, and another bite that tasted like cinnamon roll streusel. It’s a lot of fun. The element of surprise makes digging into this ice cream pure enjoyment, and the undercurrent of the cinnamon flavor drives the banana bread essence even farther.

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The final piece to this bread pudding puzzle is the sesame caramel, which, like most S&S swirls, is executed with skill and finesse. When eaten in conjunction with the other components the caramel adds the sweetness and gooey-ness you’d expect, but is a lot less dark and burnt tasting than the standard S&S caramel. The caramel helps marry the other two elements together in ooey-harmony, but when you taste it on its own it absolutely bursts with sesame flavor. The unmistakable earthy flavor that drives tahini is very present in the sweet swirl and adds a deep savory quality to the experience that brings the rescued food theme home.

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Simply put, this is Salt & Straw at their absolute finest – mixing delicious decadent flavors with innovation and purpose in ways that not many brands can accomplish. There’s plenty of intense decadence out there without the creativity, and plenty of elevated ice cream churners without the whimsy, but S&S manage to achieve both simultaneously and this is a glowing example of what makes them some of the absolute best in the expanding world of gourmet ice cream.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco)

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Pirates of the Chocolaty Caribbean

As a somewhat low key Disney fanboy and not so low key Salt & Straw fanboy I was completely puffed with joy when I read that the two would be collaborating for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Very rarely does a smaller craft brand like S&S get the chance to work with one of the entertainment industry’s titans, and I was genuinely excited not only for this release, but for what the relationship could mean in the future.  I was so excited that I read the press release at least five times, and in fact, I think it’s so well written that I’m going to stop my intro here and just post the official description from a couple weeks ago:

“Pirates of the Chocolaty Caribbean captures the sweetness and spice of rum and toasted sugar flavor of the island spirit by infusing a caramel ice cream with cinnamon, allspice, orange peel, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise. The real magic of this caramel spiced rum ice cream is the one-of-a-kind chocolate inside—single-origin chocolate from Trinidad, sourced locally from Bar Au Chocolat, studded with pop rocks that go off like pirate cannons between your teeth. Dig into the true flavor of the Caribbean in every scoop!”

Of course, this was a super limited time offering, only available at ONE shop in Los Angeles, but somehow, through the goodwill and kindness of Kim and Tyler and Salt & Straw, I was able to acquire a pint, and give it a taste for the skillet.

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By Salt & Straw standards this base is incredibly subdued, and for my personal tastes, a bit too mellow.  When I read the description of all the spices going into the ice cream my heart lit up, but they’re much harder to detect than I had anticipated.  Usually with S&S when they say something is in the flavor it is IN it and always executed with intense finesse, but here I had to really search for any prominent spicy notes.

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The ice cream is incredibly smooth and rich with a soft caramel essence that isn’t too sweet and finishes with a lovely buttery flavor that accentuates the high quality dairy like a well balanced sweet cream.  There is the slightest touch of cinnamon and nutmeg at the end, but even that is very subtle, with no star anise, cloves, or cardamon to be found.  There also isn’t any boozy rum flavor going on, which given the description of “caramel spiced rum ice cream” would have been really nice to taste as well, although I get the feeling the spices were supposed to emulate rum rather than alcohol being a prominent flavor.

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What really works wonderfully in this flavor is the pop rock studded dark chocolate, which delivers on everything it promised to be.  It’s incredibly dark and bitter with tons of small pop rocks that immediately start sizzling the second I chomp into them; and it really does feel like cannons going off in my mouth.  The chocolate is integrated in broken thin sheets and dispersed throughout the pint with perfection – some small shards of chocolate and some big chunks that keep each bite slightly different in bitterness and crunch.  It’s a funny juxtaposition to put such a novelty candy into high quality single origin chocolate but it works wonderfully, adding excitement to every bite.

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While I wish this ice cream had a true spiced rum base to compliment the very well executed chocolate, I can’t deny that it is still an incredibly well made and delicious product.  All of the more interesting ingredients fall to the background and simply temper the sweetness of the caramel for a more grown-up spin on flavors that are very familiar to ice cream aficionados.  In all honesty this is just a very high quality and slightly elevated chocolate chip ice cream, and a damn good one at that.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Salt & Straw Los Angeles

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins Caramel Macchiato

Sometime in the early 2000’s Starbucks invented the Caramel Macchiato, confusing coffee consumers and soiling the term macchiato forever.  A word that was once associated with a small espresso drink dotted by freshly steamed foam was transformed into a big cup full of milk caramel, vanilla, and less than 10% actual coffee.  This turn of events in coffee culture made caffeine aficionados angry and baristas of all levels perplexed on what the hell people were trying to order, and as such, everything has been ruined forever.  Arriving approximately 15-20 years late to the trendy party, Baskin Robbins are putting their own spin on the teeny-boppers gateway drug with their flavor of the month for April 2017.  Caramel Macchiato combines coffee ice cream with a salted caramel swirl and real espresso flakes for a flavor that will hopefully leave me sugar AND caffeine high.

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The coffee base is exactly what I look for in this kind of ice cream – smooth and sweet with vanilla undertones and a present but not too intensely bitter coffee flavor.  The taste is very similar to a heavily milked and sugared cup of coffee, which should come as no surprise considering the ingredients used to make ice cream.  It’s mellow enough that it doesn’t smack you in the face but big enough that the flavor doesn’t fade after repeated bites into creamy obscurity.

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The salted caramel swirl seems much less salted than would be ideal, but its signature sweetness stands out against the coffee backdrop and adds some silky texture that is enjoyable and true to the caramel macchiato beverage.  While I do think Baskin Robbins makes a good caramel, especially evident in flavors like Gold Medal Ribbon, I have yet to have a good salted caramel from BR and this scoop isn’t changing that perception.  I also wish there was more of the caramel, because without it in the bites the flavor is much more latte than it is “macchiato”.

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As for the third component of this flavor, the “real espresso flakes” are actually coffee studded chocolate flakes, and don’t lean too heavily on coffee or chocolate flavor with just a touch of bitter cocoa that elevates the espresso vibes without pushing it over the edge.  I was excited when the description said “espresso flakes”, and while these chocolate chips are fine, they don’t really fit the flavor profile, and may have been better replaced by caramel covered espresso beans or something more inventive to capture the caramel macchiato essence more effectively, since this isn’t a mocha flavor.  Despite the unnecessary presence of chocolate this is a pretty tasty cup, and one I might even re-scoop if I find myself near a Baskin later this month.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Seven Layer Bar

Seven layer bars, or, onslaught sugar injections, as I like to call them, are composed of three main flavors – chocolate, butterscotch, and coconut. Yes, there is the graham cracker crust and some nuts, and there could be a remix edition involving peanut butter, but when I think about biting into a seven layer bar I am immediately given the teeth tingling sensation of butterscotch and chocolate assaulting my tastebuds with an underlining kiss of tropical coco flair. Since I have heard nothing but good things about the scoop shop exclusive Ben & Jerry’s Seven Layer Bar, I had to give their new pint-available non-dairy version a shot, which combines a coconut ice cream made with almond milk, chocolate chunks, walnuts, caramel, and graham cracker for a vegan treat that will hopefully make my teeth hurt.

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Getting my first taste of this almond-driven base is different but not necessarily bad. There’s a strange salty undercurrent and texture that immediately reminds me of almond milk the way it slightly coats my tongue with a taste that gives me childhood flashbacks of the smell of Play-Dough. The first glaring issue I have isn’t with what is there as much as what isn’t – which is coconut. On the first bite there is a subtle coconut flavor that quickly fades after your second or third spoonful, and that’s it.  No coconut flakes or chunks or lasting coconut presence. For a flavor with coconut in its name this seems kind of odd and a massive missed opportunity for Ben & Jerry’s to use almond milk to make the base, considering coconut milk and cream make fantastic non-dairy ice cream and would have been much better than almond. Confusing.

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Luckily the supporting cast of mix ins is pretty solid and helps awaken a fairly dull base into an experience that’s still enjoyable. The biggest boldest surprise flavor off the jump is the walnuts, which is the element I was least excited for. They have stayed extremely firm and crunchy and pop with big robust nutty flavor in a way that I haven’t had in ice cream before. I’m not sure if it’s the freshness of the pint or the non-dairy base but I have never experienced walnuts be this impactful in ice cream.

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The chocolate chunks are also really successful, and I like them more both in size and flavor than the way B&J have been using the fudge flakes in all of their new pints (or classics like Cherry Garcia). They’re smaller and slightly darker which gives them a less sweet presence that doesn’t wash out all of the other components on my spoon. The size of all the various pieces is just right where you can get a chunk of chocolate and walnut in one bite with enough creamy stuff to make it all work harmoniously.

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The two things I was looking most forward to – the vegan caramel and graham crackers – were a bit less abundant and took some digging. The caramel swirl is more prominent and definitely tastes different than your regular butter-made variety, with a slightly thicker consistency that reminds me of a Milky Way but much less sweet. I’m missing the use of butterscotch here but if there’s going to be any substitute for the ‘scotch a good caramel makes sense. The graham cracker pieces are great and pop with a saltiness and grit that differentiate themselves against all the other elements, I just wish there were more. I love the golden flavor of graham crackers in ice cream and had there been bigger pieces or a greater amount that flavor could have really shone through.  Overall it’s a good ice cream, especially for being non-dairy, but with a couple of tweaks it could have been great.
Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Safeway

Quick Nutrition per 1/2 cup: 320 cals – 18g fat – 9g sat fat – 100mg sodium – 37g carbs – 2g fiber – 28g sugar – 2g protein