REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche Churro

After a less than ideal start to my Haagen-Dazs City Sweets experience, I was really hoping to right the the ship with another new spin on an undeniable HD classic in Dulce De Leche Churro — cinnamon churro ice cream and thick, gooey dulce de leche sauce mixed with crispy cinnamon-y churro pieces.

Well, this one has problems, but different problems.. The good news is the base actually tempers, unlike Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel, and it tempers perfectly. The ice cream is smooth and creamy with the nice mouthfeel I associate with HD; but sadly the flavor is a bit mild for me. Being that it’s supposed to be cinnamon churro I would like a more robust spicy taste. I’s not bad, just tame, and reminds me much more of a cereal milk sweet cream than a churro. There’s the essence of something lingering beneath the surface but nothing exciting.

The dulce de leche swirl is one of HD’s most effective flavor weapons and it absolutely delivers here. Thick, sticky, and super sweet, with ever-enticing buttery notes of burnt sugar. It’s just as delicious and perfect in this ice cream as it is in the classic stand alone flavor of the same name. For those unfamiliar with dulce de leche It’s essentially caramel, and HD executes it with the best of ‘em.

Where this “pint” goes awry are the churro pieces, and unfortunately I could see this coming from a mile away. The pieces aren’t coated so a lot of them, 60% or more, are soggy and stale. It’s an awful texture that completely kills the scooping experience. That being said, somehow, the other 40% or so are impressively crunchy and explode with fun, crispy texture. The problem with is that even when they do crunch they don’t have a ton of flavor. They remind me of CTC Churros in size and texture but they lack the flourish of cinnamon and sugar that makes that cereal great. They’re more reminiscent of pretzels than churros, and without any salt it’s just not that exciting for my tongue.

When putting something crunchy into ice cream it HAS to be coated — pretzels, cereal, etc do NOT work without some help from a chocolaty coating or glaze. I would have loved to have seen these churro pieces get covered in a cinnamon white chocolate, or even a slightly salted caramel white chocolate. That could have been delicious, and help fix not only the crunch catastrophe but the muted flavors of the ice cream as a whole.


Rating: 5.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($3.99)

REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel

Haagen-Dazs recently released a new City Sweets collection, comprised of both bars and “pints” (14 ounce containers instead of what should be 16, but they’ve been doing this since 2009 so it’s no new controversy). The new ice creams go for a straight forward dessert-centric and “indulgent” profile, paying homage to black and white cookies, cake pops, and one that called my name immediately: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel — chocolate ice cream with creamy peanut butter swirls and lightly salted pretzel pieces.

This “pint” is…confusing. Chocolate Peanut Butter is one of the stand out staples from HD, so adding the hit-or-miss pretzels should make its success dependent on the mix-in, but this is not the HD chocolate I thought I knew. Simply put, this ice cream tempers like shit. 

As you can see in the pictures it stayed really firm and hard to scoop after over 10 minutes on the counter, nearly 15. To peel behind the curtain: when I review a pint I’ll usually let it soften for 5-10 minutes, do some scooping and picture taking, then let it sit in the bowl for another 5 or so before it’s at its perfect temperature. This ice cream simply never let up, I couldn’t get a decent spoon shot and it was frustrating; but eventually I figured it out — peanut butter overload! 

There is so much peanut butter mixed throughout that it never found its smooth and creamy sweet spot. If that was the only issue I would have been fine with it, but the base doesn’t taste right either. It’s extremely light. The chocolate flavor is mild and boring and lacking any kind of character that can stand up to the salty magnificence of PB and pretzels. A lot of my fellow reviewers complain about B&J’s chocolate (I actually like it!) but THIS is a true mediocre chocolate, especially coming from a company known for having some of the best base quality in the grocery store.

That being said — the mix-in game here is stronger than anticipated. As mentioned earlier, tons of peanut butter, maybe to the detriment of the pint as a whole, and also lot’s of pretzels. The pretzels have an admirable success rate of crunchiness too, probably 80%, which I’ve learned over the years is on the higher end of realistic. This flavor feels like HD tried to take more of a B&J approach and hit on the mix-ins but missed on the foundation that makes their company great — the quality of the ice cream.

Rating: 5.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($3.99)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Chance

And the award for the most uninspired celebrity ice cream collab of all time goes to…Chance the Rapper!

Look, this new collaboration between the Chicago rapper and frozen grocery titans Ben & Jerry’s is far from unique, but it surprised me with how delicious it is! Mint Chocolate Chance is mint ice cream loaded with fudge brownies.

The mint base is milder and less minty than the peppermint one used in Mint Chocolate Cookie. It has a nice balance of mint with an undercurrent of vanilla, that when combined with the lusciously dense mouthfeel reminds me of an after dinner butter mint. I’m a fan of the divisive mint and chocolate combo so I enjoy it when it’s aggressive, like in B&J’s Minter Wonderland, but this is a nice change of pace and it’s a super smash-able profile that’s undeniably classic.

Where this pint really succeeds is in the execution of the brownies. The description says the pint is “loaded” and it is is, in fact, teeming with baked chocolate deliciousness. As the lone mix-in it needs to deliver, and the brownies are not only present but a shining example of why they are one of B&J’s best inclusions. 

They’re soft and chewy with an impressively gooey texture that starts to veer into fudge swirl territory on some of the edges. The brownies don’t bleed as much as toffee or caramel but they feel like more than one static texture; much more than something like a fudge flake would provide. Their rich chocolate taste compliments the mildly minty base perfectly for a one-two-punch that’s more enjoyable than the bare description implies.

On the surface this is a boring release from one of the most exciting companies in ice cream, but that blasé presentation is ousted by flawless execution. A pint that could have been completely forgettable becomes a reminder that there’s plenty of beauty in artful restraint.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: The Social Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy

When Ample Hills changed ownership and the heart and soul behind the company became The Social, one thing was for certain: Nonna D’s cookies weren’t going anywhere. Today’s pint is a reimagined version of a tried and true AH classic. “Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy” is maple syrup and donut infused ice cream with pieces of Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace Cookies.

This new spin on Brian and Jackie’s original Oatmeal Lace creation replaces the cinnamon base with a doughnut-infused one, and it very well may be an upgrade. I LOVE cinnamon, and Nonna D OG was a staple of Ample Hills with a robust and fantastic spicy cinnamon foundation; but the unique palate and subtle flavors on display in this base are astounding. Both flavors are slight but I get more doughnut than maple, which I didn’t expect at all. I actually taste the fried cake doughnut flavor and can envision the greasiness fusing into the cream. The maple is secondary but still there, rounding out the doughnut aura for a base that’s just as delightfully tasty as it is texturally smooth and decadent.

The oatmeal lace cookies are as good and plentiful as ever. Their perfect caramelized texture absolutely sings in this ice cream, bringing both a sticky chew and slight crunch to the creamy base. There’s a bit of oat-y toothsome-ness that feels right at home with their deep brown sugar flavor. They have always been an excellent mix-in and their amplified presence as the sole inclusion lets them shine as brightly as they should.

While there may not be an apparent connection between the maple doughnut and the oatmeal lace, they combine for a pretty unexpected and magical moment. When the right bite gets on my spoon the two fuse for a flavor-meets-texture experience that reminds me of the hard-fried outside of an old fashioned doughnut — a type of greasy crunch I’ve never experienced in frozen form. It may not have been the intention, but this pint captures the essence of a doughnut in a more convincing fashion than any ice cream I’ve ever scooped; a feat that is much harder than you might imagine — it’s wonderful.

Rating: 9.25/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Bad Walter’s Dream Team

Chocolate and peanut butter: a love story as old as time, and a combination I am ALWAYS down to smash. The February flavor of the month from Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream utilizes this iconic pairing and boosts it with a little twist. Dream Team is dark chocolate custard with butter crunch toffee and peanut butter swirls. 

I don’t usually do this but I want to start with the bad. It’s really not that bad, don’t worry, but my only negative about the pint. Despite the alluring streaks on the outside and the big glob on top there wasn’t as much peanut butter as I had hoped! There was some there, for sure, but after that strong opening slather I didn’t get anymore significant PB until I reached the very bottom, more than 3/4 of the way down. I’m guessing this means the swirls sunk, possibly from not freezing fast enough, and I missed a pivotal part of the dream team for a lot of this scooping experience. That being said, when I got the PB it was creamy, salty and fatty in the best way.

The dark chocolate custard is dark and divine. It has properly deep bitter notes while still being sweet enough to eat like a dessert. It tempers differently than the Bad Walters I’ve had in the past, much slower and not quite as decadent and creamy for a custard.  It reminds me more of a gelato with a bit less luscious mouthfeel and more flavorful purity. Although it’s not exactly what I expected, I don’t mind it, probably a result of the heavy handed cocoa powder, as the dark chocolate flavor REALLY comes through. It just needs an extra five minutes (about 15 total) to get to the level of creamy I’m looking for, and I’m always willing to wait longer to get my precious pints where they need to be.

The shining star of this pint is the toffee. Man oh man the butter crunch toffee is flawless. It’s cut into the most perfect size — big enough to bring crunch but small enough that it doesn’t get too hard — and delivers everything I want from a mix-in. It’s buttery and sweet with a chomp that leads to a caramelized crumble with a hint of salt that I wish never ended. Sometimes toffee in ice cream can threaten the integrity of our teeth, not here, it only threatens my sanity now that it’s gone!

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Bad Walter’s ($13.50)

REVIEW: The Social A Velvet Affair

Love is in the air! To be fair whenever I’m scooping premium ice cream I’m pretty starry eyed, but this now automatic (and awesome) February flavor combo really strikes a love-nerve with my Valentine; so when this limited pint from The Social dropped I knew I had to get it. “A Velvet Affair” is silky white chocolate ice cream with generous pieces of cream cheese frosted red velvet cake.

White chocolate is under-utilized in ice cream bases and it’s a very welcome switch up. Not only is it welcome but it’s one of the strongest ones I’ve ever had. Granted, it’s pretty rare to come across, but this is DISTINCTLY white chocolate. It’s a hard flavor to succinctly describe but it’s sweet and creamy without the floral notes of vanilla or dairy-forward flourish of a sweet cream. It has none of the bitterness of milk or dark chocolate and none of the saltiness of more complex bases like last week’s popcorn. It’s devoid of so many flavors and yet it’s perfectly white chocolate with a notable smoothness and luscious mouthfeel — I love it.

The lone mix-in, pieces of red velvet cake, are abundant. The entire pint from top to bottom is packed with sexy chunks of vibrantly red moist red velvet love. They have a delightful sponge-y chew and buttery taste rounded out by ever-so-slight notes of cocoa. Some of the frosting clings to the cake as intended and some breaks off in churning rebellion. The frosting is slightly firm and sweet. There’s a density to frosting that stands out in ice cream and it is truly such a wonderful texturally contrasting mix-in. I really enjoy the extra pops of sweetness with a touch of grit every time they arrive on my spoon.

The only element that’s missing from this otherwise stellar pint is the cream cheese. The frosting is cream cheese based but I can’t taste any of it, even when isolated. As much as I love the texture and density of the frosting it lacks the tanginess that defines a proper slice of red velvet. Maybe the white chocolate base is too silky sweet to let it come through or maybe my tang-tolerance is too high. Either way this is a wonderful seasonal pint that you should absolutely add to your order while you can.

Rating: 8.5/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: The Social The Old Ballgame

Reunited and it feels so good! 

I, along with everyone in the craft ice cream scene, collectively wept when Jackie and Brian Cuscuna had to declare bankruptcy and sell their beloved Brooklyn-based company Ample Hills. Ample Hills was one of the first shops to ship their ice cream to my door and I immediately fell in love with their combination of dense rich custard and high quality house made mix-ins. Ample Hills lives on under new ownership — I’ve ordered, and it’s not the same. It’s not awful, but it’s far from the premium product I fell in love with five years ago. 

Thankfully for all of us serious scoopers, Jackie and Brian don’t have a single ounce of quit in their bodies. In the summer of 2021 they launched The Social Ice Cream Parlor, an experience they spoke about in depth on their excellent podcast As The Ice Cream Churns. Their story is absolutely wild — from inking a deal with Disney and making exclusive Star Wars and Marvel ice cream’s to expanding quicker than they could financially support to eventually being crushed by bankruptcy with a final finishing blow from the pandemic we have all endured the last two years. 

Stunning The Social artwork from their website

The Social strips everything back to the basics. Brian is making the ice cream and hand packing the pints while Jackie tackles the ins and outs of the business and social media. They have ample seating to encourage hanging out over a scoop and have added old fashioned cake donuts to the menu that they make fresh in house every morning. It’s a family affair and a love affair, and the passion shows in the product that came delivered to my door in San Francisco all the way from Brooklyn, NY. “The Old Ballgame Popcorn & Peanut Brittle” is popcorn-infused ice cream with house made peanut butter peanut brittle.

Many of the people and ideologies from Ample Hills carried over into The Social, but one major element has changed: eggs. Most of Ample Hills’ iconic flavors were a custard base, meaning they utilized egg yolks in the core recipe; and The Social got rid of the yolks entirely. I loved the original Ample Hills recipe, I even have the cookbook, but this new base is just as dense, rich, and phenomenally creamy as I remember from vintage AH. 

Egg yolks are an amazing vehicle for mouthfeel and texture but their extra fat can also muddy the flavor. The lack of egg yolks in this base pays dividends for the popcorn flavor. It’s buttery and slightly salty with a little bit of caramel flavor poking through and a toasted flavor that permeates throughout. I absolutely love the texture of The Social’s ice cream, it feels traditional and elevated at the same time. Maybe it’s the 70s style swooping rainbow logo that reminds me of progression rock pioneers Yes but this ice cream feels so classic that I could see myself enjoying it in a parlor before I was born.

The peanut butter peanut brittle is the lone mix-in and it is executed perfectly. Peanut butter brittle is a touch different than your average caramelized-sugar variety and the foundation is more creamy and nutty than purely sweet. There are whole peanuts embedded within which have a softer crunch than the dense intense chomp of the brittle’s base. Even though this is the only mix-in, the brittle bleeds a bit into the base and creates a mild caramel-like swirl that pools around the brittle in a very endearing way. I’ll call it brittle blood, and the brittle blood is delicious, bringing a little more extra texture to a pint that truly tastes like digging into a box of Cracker Jacks. There’s something instantly nostalgic about these flavors colliding in ice cream form. For anyone who likes a sweet and salty treat it’s a simple and well-executed duo that’s sure to hit your tastebuds like a home run in the ninth inning. 

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw Calamari Contest

One of the most stunningly eye-catching and vibrantly colored pints I’ve ever had the pleasure of scooping arrives in honor of Netflix’s dazzling and most streamed show ever, Squid Game. Part of the very limited 2021 Gone Viral Pack, Salt & Straw’s Calamari Contest combines teal and pink tracksuit ice cream with bone marrow fudge and dalgona honeycomb.

Conceptually this pint is immaculate, one of the coolest, deepest, and most thought-out ice cream’s I have ever seen. Taste-wise, it really is a tale of two halves. The teal ice cream has an amazing almond flavor that I don’t think I’ve ever tasted from S&S before. It’s smooth, creamy and perfectly sweet without being over the top. The pink ice cream tastes like…nothing? Okay, not nothing but it’s devoid of any of the signature salty or floral notes that define a lot of Tyler’s fantastic bases. It might be as close to a standard sweet cream as I’ve had from him; which next to the brilliant almond, doesn’t taste like much.

It’s also kind of odd — the two bases temper entirely differently. I always give my pints a proper 10+ minutes at room temperature before shooting and scooping and with this one the teal got perfectly tempered, edging towards too soft, while the pink remained hard and kind of stiff. I can’t think of too many times where S&S went with a dual base and this might be why.

The mix-ins are also totally split down the middle — literally and figuratively. The Dalgona honeycomb chunks are absolutely incredible, and exclusively on the teal side. They have an extraordinarily gentle and sophisticated crunch with airy pockets of sugary splendor that dissolve as soon as I sink my teeth in. It’s miraculous how perfect they are and how fragile they feel — quintessential Salt & Straw magic. The high concept is once again on full display, as Dalgona candy plays a pivotal role in one Squid Game’s challenges, and suddenly it feels as though I’m eating an episode.

The bone marrow fudge coexists with the pink side and is much more of a ganache than a fudge. It’s thick, dense, and hard, with an even firmer texture than the usual fantastic S&S salted ganache. Unlike the ganache, this has very little sweetness and actually leans towards savory as opposed to bittersweet. Something about the bone marrow adds a note of meatiness and I don’t really like where it takes the profile. The savoriness combined with the beautiful-looking but bland-tasting base makes the pink half of the pint more experimental but unfortunately far less enticing than the teal.

This is a tough one to grade. The concept and vision are a 10/10, the teal side is a 9/10, and the pink side is a 4/10, which leaves me with a 23/30, so let’s call it a 7/10 — a rating that could be higher for you depending on how savory your like your ice cream, it’s just not my style!

HUGE thanks to Salt & Straw for sending this pack my way to try — an amazing way to start the new year.

REVIEW: Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes Ice Cream

Over the last five years of being a professional (…right?) junk food reviewer the biggest thorn in my side has been the lack of a Walmart within 50 miles of where I live. San Francisco says a big “NOPE” to the big box store that notoriously pays its employees low wages, and generally, I’m okay with not supporting the chain; but it gets some exclusive products that I MUST try or I will disintegrate. My heart broke into 10,000 pieces when I found out the new Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes ice cream was only at Walmart, but thanks to a perfectly timed dog sitting weekend I was able to spend a night in a city with a Walmart and get this limited time Christmas pint.

The ice cream features a vanilla base with pound cake pieces, red frosting swirl, and green sprinkles. LD’s Christmas Tree Cakes are among their finest products, and this ice cream does a really good job of paying homage to the cheap and comforting treat. The pint is 700 calories and I took it home for $2.49, so I knew what I was getting myself into, and with appropriate expectations I really enjoyed it.

The base is light and overrun as all hell, but in this context it works well. It has a mellow vanilla flavor and smooth almost fluffy texture akin to Cool Whip, but it’s not gummy or unpleasant like some cheaper (Breyers) ice creams. There’s quite a bit of frosting that not only looks cool and seasonally sound but adds a nice sweetness and syrupy texture that I love. 

The cake pieces, although small, do their job in bringing some dense chew and slightly buttery flavor to the the pint. They’re a little firmer than the Tree Cakes themselves but not in a way that’s off putting. As much as the other two components work, the element that really brings the cake-turned-scoop experience to another level are the green sprinkles. They’re just like the ones that sparkle on top of Debbie’s Trees and add the perfect sugar crystal crunch to almost every bite — so simple and so incredibly effective.

This is a low calorie and low price tag ice cream that looks and feels like the holiday spirit without any of the more expected flavors like mint, gingerbread, or egg nog. It’s a fun switch up, essentially a light birthday cake ice cream with really endearing packaging, and I wish I could scoop it again, but I won’t lose any sleep over its exclusivity. 

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Totally Unbaked

The first Ben & Jerry’s Limited Batch of 2021 was a helluva challenge to find, and it’s less of a newbie and more of a remix. Totally Unbaked is a reimagined take on Half Baked, combining chocolate and vanilla ice creams with brownie batter swirls and gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough. As a fan of OG Half Baked this pint only really has to answer one question: is it an improvement? The answer, sadly, is no. 

The new addition to the mix, the brownie batter swirl, is FANTASTIC. It’s rich and thick and sticks to the spoon like proper batter, although it’s missing the grittiness I expected, (not an issue) and has more of a smooth consistency like fudge. B&J’s ability to nail a rich heavy swirl is what makes Peanut Butter Fudge Core one of my favorites from them and in Totally Unbaked that rich thickness is absolutely the star of the show. 

It makes the whole pint more chocolate forward than its predecessor and while the base distribution is still fairly equal, most of the more subtle vanilla flavor gets washed away from the intensity of the chocolate ice cream and swirl tandem. I have no issue with the level of chocolate, and I guess what I want is MORE chocolate because this pint DESPERATELY misses the brownies. B&J do brownies so well that their absence here is notable. Despite how good the batter is I still want the brownie’s dense chew to go with it; that would be a sweet combo.

What makes me REALLY miss the brownies is the cookie dough execution. I’m not sure if this was just a quality control issue but all of the dough pieces are hard on the outside, which is not what I’ve come to expect from my boys Ben and Jerry. It feels like the dough was about to be baked, popped in the oven for 45 seconds, and then *SIKE* pulled out and plopped into ice cream. It’s very odd, and not appealing in the slightest.

If Half Baked is your favorite Ben & Jerry’s staple (what’s wrong with you – it’s Phish Food, baby!) then this one is probably worth a shot as there’s a good chance your dough won’t be weirdly hard. If you’re looking for something complex and unique and tantalizing you’re better off skipping it, even though the brownie batter swirl is *chefs kiss* perfection.


Rating: 6/10

Found at: Target ($4.99)