Basil is one of the most beautiful ingredients in the culinary universe. Often associated with savory foods, its fragrant complexity isn’t limited simply to pesto, pizza sauce, curry, or garnish on fish. There’s an entire world of possibilities if you open your mind to combining the heralded herb with different, unique, components, including ice cream. Caffe Panna’s Secret Garden is fresh basil infused sweet cream rippled with Sicilian apricot preserves.
To the unenlightened this may sound odd, but there are truly few things as quintessentially Italian tasting as this stunning imported Panna fused with basil. The base is absolutely perfect. It is rich and indulgent with an immaculately smooth velvety texture that takes over the entirety of my tongue as it melts. It’s decadent but still manages to feel light, refreshing, and even cleansing from the gentle and slightly peppery sweet notes of the basil. The purity of the high end Panna (cream) really gets a chance to shine while never overpowering the more herbaceous qualities of the green gift.
The apricot preserves are a lovely accompaniment to the basil. They’re sweet and thicker than a typical swirl, popping up in little clumps throughout the pint with zero iciness. The preserves carry a nice syrupy density without feeling cloyingly heavy and compliment the basil really well.
Secret Garden is an exceptionally simple and elegant ice cream. It is beautiful in its simplicity and I love it. The only thing that could take it to the next level would be a little bit of texture. This is the type of ice cream that is sensational but after 3 or 4 spoonfuls you’re done, and with a little bit of toothy variation it could be an all timer. Perhaps some crunchy gently candied almonds or hazelnuts or even the stunning shortbread from the Panna Picnic pack’s sibling Cornberry Blues could make this even better; but as it stands it is an ice cream everyone must try. And hey, no one is stopping me (or you) from sprinkling a little crunchy magic on top and turning this secret garden into a secret salad sundae…trust me, it’s fantastic.
CinnaFuego Toast Crunch is a limited edition niche snack release done the right way. Unlike the recent collab between Ritz and Oreo and the ongoing Ritz Bitz S’mores re-release, where packages are made available to 1,000 people or less, this spicy cereal can be found online exclusively at Walmart. Sure, you’ll have to pay shipping, but everyone has a chance to get their hands on this sweet and spicy cereal snack that was way too much fun for me to resist ordering the day it dropped.
The pieces of toast look identical to the crazy squares in Cinnamon Toast Crunch I know and love, but there is an intense spicy cinnamon aroma wafting from the bag straight into my nostrils. It smells distinctly like the type of cinnamon heat I associate with Hot Tamales, Big Red gum, Atomic Fireballs, and those delicious cinnamon bears. In fact, if you’ve had a long night out with one too many shots of Fireball whisky you may get flashbacks from sniffing these fiery squares.
The taste mirrors the smell, with a punchy spicy cinnamon flavor that fuses together pretty naturally with the buttery cinnamon base of CTC. The finish gets a bit black peppery and I can feel the heat lingering in the back of my throat. I’m impressed by the level of spice but it’s definitely still a cinnamon spice as opposed to cayenne or something with a vegetal peppery taste like habanero. Never forget the cinnamon challenge, though, if you breath in too hard while snacking on this cereal you’ll cough — I definitely did. I can see people really hating this; it’s definitely a divisive and borderline aggressive flavor, but as a certified cinnamon fiend I am vibing hard.
In milk this cereal is a little weird. I don’t hate it but I don’t really enjoy it either. Milk tends to temper heat but I’ve found the unsweetened almond milk I eat cereal with to make it less sweet and a touch more peppery without being as punchy on the cinnamon front. I’m more of a dry cereal snacker anyway so this doesn’t really bother me and I’ll happily enjoy this spicy-TC at its crunchiest.
While it’s still available I’d recommend grabbing this limited edition bag to anyone who loves sweet and spicy, or are like me and insist on ingesting all new members of the Toast Crunch family.
When it comes to donuts the jelly filled variety are near the bottom of my personal tier list. Give me an old fashioned, buttermilk bar, sprinkled cake, custard filled, cruller, chocolate raised, hell, I’ll take even a plain glazed over a jelly filled. But when it comes to ice cream companies that have worked their way into readily available grocery stores? Jeni’s is right up there with the elite, cranking out some of the most consistent and top tier pints you can find in an aisle that also carries riced cauliflower. I sadly don’t get to try as many new Jeni’s flavors as I’d like, with no local scoop shops in the Bay Area and many of my local Whole Foods not keeping up with the times, but I got lucky with this spring drop and couldn’t deny a fruity frozen donut mashup. Powdered Jelly Donut is vanilla custard with raspberry jelly and brown sugar donut crumble.
This vanilla custard is not what I expected — it is comPLEX. As usual with Jeni’s it is rich, dense, and superbly creamy, but to my palate is is anything but a basic vanilla. I get slightly tangy notes akin to a milder cream cheese base, and a pretty legitimate saltiness comes through as well. It’s an extremely deep and heavy flavor with a potent eggy-ness that gets accented by the more nuanced floral notes of vanilla. In short, it’s really good, especially for a pint you can grab at a grocery store — absolutely top shelf stuff. The custard tempers surprisingly quickly for how premium it tastes, which creates a wonderfully velvety texture when the other components come to their proper temperature.
The raspberry jelly is bright, acidic, and tart with a little bit of a floral undertone. Jeni’s website refers to it as “raspberry rose” and while I’m not getting any perfume-y notes there’s definitely a supporting flavor underneath the usual straight ahead slightly sweet and sour berry burst. Out of the freezer the jam is a bit icy, but once tempered properly it has an impressively smooth and jelly-like consistency that plays with the indulgent and rich base really well. If I could make one tweak to it I’d make it a touch sweeter to drive home the donut vibe, but it’s a tasty and fascinating swirl in its own right.
As I’ve said on this blog many times before, donuts are exceedingly hard to pull off in ice cream, and the good news bad news here is the “donut crumble” doesn’t really resemble donuts at all; but it’s awesome. The crumble is really more of a swirl with a soft but gritty consistency similar to cake batter, and reminds me a lot of tres leches cake with its impressively heavy moisture. It has a nice buttery and slightly spiced nutmeg flavor to it that compliments the salty base and tart swirl really well. There’s a touch of astringency in the finish, which isn’t unpleasant, and actually makes the swirl taste a bit more bread-like than the full on sweetness overload in a cake batter. It was smart of Jeni’s to opt for this type of mix-in over actual donut chunks, which would no doubt be much harder to control, I simply would have called it a donut batter swirl. And honestly, that probably would have been something the ice cream enthusiasts would have gone wild for, making this surprisingly complex pint even more desirable.
Atomic Creamery began in 2017 in Orange County, California with a mission to “keep it fresh, keep it premium, keep it unique”. That ice cream mantra caught my eye big time, and I appreciate how the company leans heavy into their flash frozen liquid nitrogen churning method via a fully committed science theme. When my pints arrived I was worried — the dry ice had evaporated — but all the pints still seemed very frozen; except for one, Chocolate 3. Naturally I put the softened pint into the deepest depths of my freezer and crossed my fingers for two days. To my surprise, it emerged 95% intact. Aside from a little refrozen top layer, it was good to go, and I’m so glad it was. Chocolate 3 (cubed) is a chocolate base with Oreo cookies and brownie bites, finished with a whole Oreo on top.
Atomic’s ice cream should freeze pretty hard, a result of not only their premium ingredients but the liquid nitrogen that quickly brings it all together, allowing for a lower overrun, which pumps less air into the final product. For whatever reason, even freshly out of the freezer after being properly frozen again, their chocolate base is softer than all of the others, needing very little temper time to be deliciously creamy and ready to scoop. Speaking of which, this base is awesome; it is basic in the best way. It tastes like a tried and true, but premium, classic scoop shop chocolate. Not too dark but also not too milky sweet, it brings the perfect bittersweet balance that its color implies — rich and indulgent but not over the top in the slightest. The chocolate has delightful depth courtesy of San Francisco’s Ghirardelli that plays with the smooth and lush Straus cream beautifully — simple elegance.
As much as I enjoy the base, the mix-ins are where this pint really takes off. Oreo’s are amazing and everyone knows what they taste like, so it comes down to how they freeze and how they’re chopped. The chunks in this pint vary in size but mostly come through BIG with slabs of wafer still coated in tons of creme filling — I love them. There are some smaller pieces that have softened more and I enjoy their softened-in-milk texture as well. I also had Atomic Creamery’s Chocolate 2 (squared) which is the same mix-ins but with a vanilla base, and while that flavor was very good, the mix-in density wasn’t nearly as generous — this Chocolate 3 pint is loaded and it’s a winner. It also helped me realize that while I’m not a massive fan of cookies and cream I am definitely a fanboy for chocolate cookies and cream when it’s done right — like old school Ample Hills and this Chocolate 3.
We all love a good Oreo, but the brownies in this pint are some of the best I’ve ever had. They are so ooey gooey and soft they feel and taste like they came straight from the pan, baked mere hours ago. The chocolate is a richer and more intensely flavored one than the base, kind of like fudge, with some vanilla notes and a hint of salt that poke through as well. Somehow both darker and sweeter, the massive chunks of brownie swimming in the chocolate base with the occasional crunch from an Oreo wafter is a chocolate lovers dream…and I am lucid. Sometimes brownies can be dry and cakey — not here. These mix-ins are a testament to the effectiveness of Atomic’s flash freezing, not only being made exceptionally fresh with top tier ingredients in person, but locking in that experience for someone on the other side of the state.
This review is for Chocolate 3, but it took two other pints to come to this conclusion. Chocolate 2, which I mentioned earlier, is a great, but even more subdued take on cookies and cream, and Rocky Road, which is part of their nostalgic collection, is an even more classic rendition on a classic flavor. I had to dig into Rocky Road as my only other chocolate base to make sure everything was copacetic with the one that felt totally softened upon arrival. Rocky Road is awesome, with crunchy massive whole nuts and soft marshmallows, but interestingly, the base also freezes at least 50% softer than all the others. Something about the Atomic Creamery chocolate base, perhaps extra liquid to offset the oftentimes drying effect of cocoa powder, makes the ice cream so much quicker to temper. If you give Chocolate 3 a shot, and I absolutely think you should, make sure you watch its texture closely, because it’s not like the rest!
As someone who has worked in the coffee industry on and off for over a decade and reviews sweet snacks on the side, I don’t generally prefer when their paths cross. I like a good strong cup of black coffee every morning and have a broad palette for the magic of espresso, but when it comes to cookies and cake and ice cream I like to keep it sweet and indulgent.
That being said, a good coffee ice cream can be special, just like a beautifully balanced slice of Tiramisu can be perfection, and Caffe Panna have proven to me before that they can make one helluva coffee ice cream. It is, in fact, in the espresso-bar-meets-scoop-shop DNA of the brand to tackle coffee desserts with finesse. ABB Coffee Break is cold steeped coffee bean ice cream with coffee cake streusel, Allie’s Banana Bread chunks, and an espresso swirl.
The cold steeped coffee bean ice cream, from what I can tell, is awesome. As with most of the People Pleaser pack, this pint is teeming with mix-ins and flavor-shards are coming at me from every direction. I can see little flecks of beans throughout and they seem to carry a bit of a crunch, with a bold but creamy coffee flavor that permeates throughout the entire experience. Like I mentioned earlier I take my coffee black, but this balanced attack of bitter, sweet, and creamy is nothing short of divine.
Speaking of divine, the coffee cake streusel is insanely intense and quite honestly, transcendent. It is buttery and crunchy just like the top of a fresh coffee cake should be, and dispersed in smaller pieces throughout with a surprising bitter note on almost every bite. It has the crunchiness of shortbread and finishes with either the flavor of being espresso-soaked or doused in cocoa powder. I’m not entirely sure what I’m tasting but it definitely deviates from the standard cinnamon crumb coffee cake, and as much as I love cinnamon I welcome its darkness and complexity with open arms.
And the bitterness doesn’t end there, it only gets wilder. The espresso swirl has the density of dulce de leche, with a stick-to-your-spoon consistency that’s thicker than any caramel I’ve had from Panna in the past. The flavor is an absolute wallop of espresso intensity balanced out with just enough burnt sugar sweetness to feel like dessert. It’s without a doubt the strongest coffee component in the pint and as someone who usually eats ice cream at night I’m wondering if I’ll be able to sleep after this. I love this espresso swirl, and its distribution throughout the pint is perfect, but it’s definitely for coffee lovers only.
The lone break from the bitter in coffee break comes from the other half of the flavor’s namesake — Allie’s Banana Bread — and it is awesome. Another, albeit much newer, staple to NY’s food scene, like Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, Allie’s bread is another absolute winner of a mix-in that plays into this profile surprisingly well. The bread is dense and moist with a brilliantly bright and sweet banana flavor that somehow gets through the seemingly endless layers of coffee. It carries a hefty chew but has a softness like it was baked yesterday, with its tropical fruity notes and butteriness bringing a touch of levity to the scooping experience.
There are some pints that teeter on the edge of insanity, and this is without a doubt one of them. Being on the edge of insanity is okay though, if you can pull it off, and with ABB Coffee Break Hallie and the team at Caffe Panna somehow manage to balance a myriad of complex bitter and aggressive flavors with massive boulders of mix-ins via just enough nuance and sweet cream to create a masterpiece.
Once upon a time Salt & Straw dropped an extremely limited ice cream doughnut collaboration with Miami, Florida based The Salty Donut. The pint pack sold out in what felt like the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse, but fortunately for those of us that missed out in early 2021, that success lead to some of those flavors coming back and keeping a rotational slot in Salt & Straw’s online store. The Salty Donut Guava + Cheese combines a cream cheese ice cream with glazed brioche donut chunks, rich Florida guava curd, and puffed pastry streusel.
The name Salty Donut is accurate because this ice cream is SALTY. Not so much the cream cheese base, which is dense, rich, and slightly tangy with an immaculately creamy texture, but the brioche donut chunks. The chunks are pretty sizable, and while not perfect, they are the best execution of a donut in ice cream I have ever had. Not quite crispy but more than simply chewy, they carry a rich buttery flavor with epic saltiness that really jumps out of the pint. They’re not fully savory but far from sweet and I really appreciate their presence and execution. Donuts never feel quite like donuts when they’re frozen and submerged in cake, the way that normal cake and cookies can, but these are as close as it gets and really awesome.
The puffed pastry streusel is similar to the brioche chunks without the heft and potent salty finish. It doesn’t really taste like much but adds a nice chew throughout. I could do without the swirl but in no way does it hurt the experience at all.
Where this pint really takes things to another level is the guava curd. I am generally not a guava fan but this curd is so fantastically balanced and rich with tropical flare it made me a believer. It’s heavy and yolky with a brilliantly bright sweet guava flavor that gets tempered by a touch of saltiness. The other components have so much salt it would have been fine if the curd was sickly sweet, but it isn’t, and the potent pop of the summery fruit gets even more shine by the restrained harmony put into the exceptionally dense and buttery smooth swirl. The combination of the thick sugary salted guava and subtle sweet tang from the base is truly magical, and it helps that I have epic pools from the start all the way to the bottom — immaculate quality control from S&S.
This collab between Salty Donut and Salt & Straw is one of the best frozen donut executions you will ever try, and is without a doubt my favorite guava dessert I’ve ever had. Perfectly balanced with salty and fruity and epic-ly decadent to boot, you’ll want to add this one to your next pint order if you’re lucky enough to order a pack when it’s available.
It has been a long time since I’ve posted about a new Oreo here. It’s also been a long time since Nabisco has released a notable Oreo to the ice cream community. I’ve eaten all of them, and written about some for The Impulsive Buy, but this rehashing of 2011’s “Triple Double Oreo Neapolitan” needed to be addressed on the skillet. Just in time for yesterday’s national ice cream day, 2022’s Limited Edition Neapolitan Oreo Cookies combine vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavored cremes with a waffle cone flavored cookie.
Yes, you read that right, a waffle cone flavored cookie. That is what had me frantically hunting for these the moment they dropped; absolutely teeming with excitement. A waffle cone is such a special flavor ensconced in nostalgic ice cream dates layered with deep orange sunset hues and long shadows from nearby tree branches. I love them, and I almost exclusively enjoy them at my favorite scoop shops. So did they pull it off? Yes, I think they did.
Waffle cone is a hard flavor to pin down, and when I think of what I might taste I think of it as typically going one of two ways — slightly buttery with vanilla and almond accents similar to a bigger cylindrical fortune cookie, or a little darker with notes of brown sugar and cinnamon; or a combination of the two. I’ve even had waffle cones with notes of lemon, so it’s not always a decidedly specific flavor, and as such I wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I bit in. But one thing is for sure, visually — the criss cross hatches of the waffle cone on one side of the cookie is the perfect touch.
Nabisco went with cinnamon as its choice for waffle cone emulation and it absolutely works. It tastes a lot like a waffle cone from Cold Stone, almost spot on, with a satisfying crunch that really hits home. Had the wafer carried a vanilla flavor it would be too similar to the standard Golden, which is too sweet of a vessel for a triple stack of creme, and as much as I love it, an appropriate amount of almond would have been too subtle to make much of an impact. I’ve had issues in the last couple of years with Oreo’s wafer texture being different, not nearly as soft and crumbly, but these are hard and crunchy in a good way, with intention, and it simulates the tough crunch of a waffle cone really well without feeling stale or clunky.
The big bold crunch of the cinnamon-y shell gives way to the satisfying smooth squish of three creme’s and I swear to you I’m not THAT high on scoop shop nostalgia when I say…these actually taste like Neapolitan ice cream. The vanilla is your standard OG Oreo creme, that much like vanilla in a container if Neapolitan, is the background support for the other two. The chocolate is nice and dark with a touch of bitterness and a fudge-y quality, and the strawberry has a classic scoop shop strawberries and cream presence to it — surprisingly not overwhelmingly artificial and Nesquick-adjacent, with a touch of tart in the finish. I did my best to pick apart the flavors but that’s not what this is about, this is about the entirety of the flavors combined with the crunch and brown sugar cinnamon accents in the cookie. Some bites are more strawberry-heavy or choco-heavy, depending on the balance in the individual cookie, which makes alternating bites unique and even more fun.
Not only do the flavors work but the texture is immaculate as well, it feels delightfully like a mouthful of frosting. Sometimes when too many creme’s get stacked they can come across with a cloying density, but here the creme’s are fresh and soft with an ice cream-like creaminess that’s very sweet but appropriate. I love these cookies, and if you have a soft spot for ice cream dates and grocery store sweets you must toss these in your cart the moment you see them.
Caffe Panna’s People Pleaser Pack has arrived on Goldbelly, which means it’s time for some decadence. Since 2019 Hallie Meyer and Caffe Panna have cranked out some of the best and most innovative ice cream in the country, and thanks to dry ice and the internet, it reaches mouths far from their New York scoop shop. I’m kicking off the pack with a divisive flavor combo that I happen to love — chocolate and mint. Minted Panna is panna peppermint ice cream with fudge coated minty cookie chunks and house made Oreo ganache.
The peppermint base is absolutely fantastic. It is rich and creamy with an exceptionally smooth texture that really highlights the high quality Italian cream (panna). The peppermint is there but not overly aggressive, it’s mild and balanced to the point I would almost consider it a vanilla peppermint or peppermint sweet cream, like a melty sugary after dinner mint. The flavor is absolutely nothing like the dreaded tingly toothpaste taste that mint haters fear, yet it’s present and punchy enough to satisfy mint lovers like me. Flawless victory.
The flavor description gets kinda cheeky with it but I’m almost positive these are Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, and once again they’re immaculately executed. The fudge coating allows the cookies to retain all of their crunch, and as much as I enjoy a traditional softened cookies and cream scoop I’ll take that chompy-ness ANY day. Due to the mint in the base and the extra coco-coating I get much more bittersweet chocolate flavor from the cookies than mint, but there’s no doubt a little extra cooling factor wafts in from each bite of the cookies. The chunks are pretty big and respectable, with a scattering of smaller pieces all the way to the bottom, but my pint did briefly dry out on the mix-in front pretty substantially in the middle. Luckily the peppermint base is so damn good.
My only gripe with this pint is the house made Oreo ganache because…I’m not sure I got any? There are some whispers of something that may have been gooey around some of the cookies, especially at the top, but that seems more like cookie blood than ganache. I was looking for something akin to Caffe Panna’s iconic Oreo brittle with a rich buttery or salty flavor, but softer and gooier, and I never found it; which is a shame because this flavor has potential to be an all timer for mint chocolate lovers.
Whether there was an accident when packing the pint or I’m not understanding what I’m seeing and tasting (although I’m pretty sure I know) I can’t deny how much I enjoy this ice cream. Two flawlessly executed components and one missing in action still has me wanting to lick the container when it’s empty — I can’t deny its deliciousness and potential for greatness.
Last year Goldfish began its creative collaborative journey via an impressive outing with Franks RedHot, and almost exactly one year later a second seasoning-inspired Goldfish has arrived — Old Bay. I am a huge fan of seafood but don’t love Old Bay as much as a lotta fish heads do, it’s a bit too celery-forward for how I like my crab, but I am really enjoying these crackers.
I assumed, like the RedHot variety, these would be the staple orange colored cheddar flavored fish, but they’re more of a plain white cracker, perhaps the blue-bagged “original” flavor, which reminds me of an oyster cracker or saltine in the best way. My first crunchy bite definitely gives me a prominent celery salt taste that I don’t love, but it quickly fades with subsequent handfuls. The combination of the salty spice and herbs on the crackers builds up to a pretty profound savory experience that gets buttery and creamy in a way that channels oyster crackers sitting atop clam chowder. There are notes of onion, garlic, paprika, and a subtle vinegary tang in the background. They’re delicious, and the seasoning is pretty convincingly distributed across the hundreds of fishies swimming in the bag.
This is a pretty straight forward idea — take a beloved seasoning and put it on a beloved cracker — but it’s executed extremely well and is just weird enough to appeal to those who have a sickening affinity for limited edition collabs (me, and probably you). Old Bay Goldfish are addictive and endlessly snack-able, with with some perfectly simple and eye catching packaging to bring the whole concept to brilliant salty life.
It has been awhile since Trader Joe’s released a new flavor of Joe-Joe. There have been the seasonal staples of Candy Cane and Pumpkin, as well as 2016’s Mango variety popping back up, but when was the last time we got an entirely new flavor of Joe-Joe? I couldn’t tell ya an exact date, but I’m pretty sure this is the first one since the pandemic broke out in 2020. And if it isn’t, I have pandemic brain, which has melted away a lot of my memory — so apologies if I missed an all time Joe-Joe in the last 2.5 years. Strawberry Lemonade Joe-Joe’s combine a lemon flavored cookie with strawberry creme.
I ripped into these before realizing they were a lemon flavored cookie wafer, I was too excited to try a new and unique combination to read the box. I generally like Joe-Joe’s, but at times they can come off kind of flat, which isn’t the case here, and I’m going to place the responsibility for that on the non-plain cookie. They don’t have a particularly bold lemon flavor, no zest in sight, but they remind me instantly of the now-RIP’d Girl Scouts Lemon Sandwich Cookies, and that’s a very good thing. The cookie is soft and crumbly with a buttery undertone, which is surprising because these are vegan with no butter in the ingredients.
After the initial burst of mild lemon comes the rush of strawberry, which, thanks to actual pieces of dried strawberry in the creme, is pretty tart. I actually thought the wafers were more lemony than they were because the tart zing from the creme reminds me so much of lemon’s bright acidity, and they work really well together. The strawberry flavor is extremely natural with no artificial candy or Nesquick notes at all. While it does taste very natural, the combination of lemon and strawberry conjures up a milky spoonful of Froot Loops, but in the most clean and organic way possible.
While we may have had to wait a few too many years for them to pop up, these new Joe-Joe’s are fantastic, striking a beautiful balance between sweet and tart that will keep you gleefully snacking into the summer solstice. And yes, they are truly as refreshing as a cold glass of strawberry lemonade, and do that summery porch staple plenty of justice.