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)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Topped (all 7 flavors!)

Every year Ben & Jerry’s seems to come up with a new theme. Better yet, a new scheme, to get people like myself to seek out and try 5+ new flavors of tantalizing ice cream at the same time. In 2014 it was Cores, followed by Cookie Cores in 2015, in 2018 it was Truffles, and then to Cookie Dough Cores in 2019…you get the point. For 2021 Ben & Jerry’s said screw shoving stuff INSIDE, we’re going to put the goods on TOP; and thus, the Topped line was born. Each of these 7 pints are topped with either a regular or white chocolate ganache and some sort of chunk or cup mix-in, followed by regular B&J mix-ins and swirls. 

This lineup delivers a pretty impressive array of flavors with a little something for everyone. The effectiveness comes down to, as it often does, the quality control of the pints. I had some that were PACKED with mix-ins and others that were missing key components to bring it all together; but fortunately there were no outright flops. So let’s get into it, here are all seven of Ben & Jerry’s Topped flavors ranked and reviewed: 

Whiskey Biz

Brown Butter Bourbon Ice Cream with Blonde Brownies & Whiskey Caramel Swirls Topped with White Chocolatey Ganache & White Fudge Chunks

This is a super unique and very well-executed flavor that, unlike 2017’s Urban Bourbon, nails the balance of boozy and sweet in a very harmonious and enjoyable way. The brown butter bourbon base is creamy and mildly boozy, with a much more significant oaky eruption coming from the whiskey caramel swirl. The two play off of each other well, resulting in a sturdy but not off-putting amount of whiskey presence. 

Blondies are one of my favorite rare B&J’s mix-ins, and their appearance is one of the reasons I still go back to Salted Caramel Core a couple of times a year. They’re dense and gently chewy with a nice buttery brown sugar flavor that compliments the alcohol notes swimmingly. The finishing touch on this pint is the white chocolate ganache, which is a bit harder and thicker than I wanted and experienced in other Topped pints, but maybe I was just being impatient. The ganache isn’t as necessary here as it is in some of the others, but I have no problem at all with it being here: this one is a winner.

Rating: 9/10

Tiramisu

Mascarpone Ice Cream with Fudge Swirls & Shortbread Pieces Topped with Espresso Fudge Chunks & Chocolatey Ganache

Coming from someone’s who favorite Italian dessert is Tiramisu, this ice cream came together even better than I expected. It’s not a perfect replication of the light and airy espresso-kissed cake but it conjures the right feeling and level of satisfaction I get when enjoying a proper slice. The mascarpone base is excellent, with a slight tang and sturdy density that reminds me a bit of cake batter and forms a solid foundation for the swirls of fudge that bring added sweetness with a touch of bitterness to scoop. The coffee flavor is mild here and I’m okay with that. The espresso fudge chunks slide their way into every other bite with a nice chomp that provides more of an aromatic flourish than it does an aggressive espresso push, and it’s just the right amount for someone that loves coffee but prefers his desserts to be sweet (me). If you get a chip in isolation it tastes spot on like an extra thin chocolate covered espresso bean…delicious. 

Despite all of the other solid components, the real star of the show here are the shortbread pieces, which come impressively packed into the pint and have a soft chew and beautiful vanilla flavor that hits much closer to cake than shortbread, which is perfect for a tiramisu experience. And oh yeah, there’s a layer of ganache on top too, this pint rules. Somehow when all the components come together it reminds me of a coffee-kissed yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Is it my birthday? Cause it hella feels like it!

Rating: 9/10

Salted Caramel Brownie

Vanilla Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Swirls & Fudge Brownies Topped with Caramel Cups & Chocolatey Ganache

There’s something about a brownie sundae that just really gets me in my feelings, and this pint does a helluva job replicating that experience. The vanilla ice cream is pure and creamy with ample salty swirls that keep the base from being too repetitive or boring. The ganache on top is soft and smooth with a gentle crunch and mouthfeel that does well to mimic the ribbons of fudge I like my brownie sundaes smothered in. 

And the brownies – the brownies – one of B&J’s strongest mix-ins, come in spoonfuls-a-plenty with their soft chew and sweet cocoa flair to really bring this flavor home. Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, it just has to be executed with finesse, and this new scoop simply smacks.

Rating: 9/10

Thick Mint

Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Cookie Swirls & Mint Chocolate Cookie Balls Topped with Chocolate Cookies & Chocolatey Ganache

This pint is easily better than the year round available Mint Chocolate Cookie and is on par with the wonderful winter seasonal scoop Minter Wonderland, although it is very different. Thick Mint is a textural paradise full of crunchy cookies and chocolate that is just downright fun to eat. Ben and Jerry are definitely coming for the Girl Scout’s with this flavor and absolutely succeed in replicating one of the organization’s shining cookie accomplishments. 

The cookie balls are the real star of the show and do a great job of elevating the mint flavor in the relatively mild mint base. When you get a bite with balls and ganache the variance in all the chompiness is awesome and absolutely worth picking up if you’re a fan of the chocolate mint tandem. 

Rating: 8/10

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Dough 

Chocolate Ice Cream with Caramel Swirls & Gobs of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Topped with Caramel Cups & Chocolatey Ganache

These caramel cups SMACK! They have way more caramely-impact than their peanut butter counterpart and bring a seriously sweet burst of character that this pint desperately needs. I didn’t notice the caramel cups as much in Salted Caramel Brownie, but maybe that’s because that experience was simply stronger than this one. I got a pretty decent amount of B&J’s classic cookie dough but not as much caramel swirl as I would like. The cookie dough doesn’t pop as hard here as it does when vanilla is present like in Half Baked, and without the more glaring contrast from the base it isn’t as compelling of a mix-in. 

There’s actually so much heavy chocolate that the cookie dough can’t really be tasted as much as felt, and more caramel cups would have helped break up the overlap. As I ate this I couldn’t stop thinking about how important the marshmallow swirl is to Phish Food, because this pint shouldn’t be too far off from that, but it doesn’t hold a candle to my precious Phishies. 

Rating: 7/10

Strawberry Topped Tart

Sweet Cream Ice Cream with Strawberry Swirls & Pie Crust Pieces Topped with White Chocolatey Ganache & Candy Sprinkles

Strawberry is pretty under-represented in the Ben & Jerry’s catalog, and while it isn’t my favorite I’m always down for a nice bright berry scoop. Unfortunately this pint is severely lacking in what I came to it for: strawberry! I like the sweet cream base, it’s mild and creamy, and the pie crust was very abundant with a nice chew perfectly reminiscent of something straight from a metal tin. But the strawberry swirls were so few and far in between I was really missing the sweet acidity to tie the experience together. 

While the swirl from the pint’s namesake really left something to be desired, I really liked the combination of the white ganache and candy sprinkles. The medley of crunchy and creamy is pure sugary bliss that I would have welcomed another layer of. I can see some serious potential with this one if it packed more of a berry punch but as it is I wouldn’t return to this one again.

Rating: 6/10

PB Over the Top

Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Swirls & Peanut Butter Cups Topped with Mini Peanut Butter Cups & Chocolatey Ganache

Peanut butter and chocolate is one of the greatest combinations of all time, and sadly this is not a good representation of that amazing combo. As much as I love PB and chocolate, this interpretation comes across as extremely one-noted, in particular the way the swirl blends in with the base to give no textural contrast or fatty mouthfeel is pretty disappointing. 

The Topped line is fun because there are so many different components in the mix, but here they overlap in a way that just becomes redundant without the intensity. Change the swirl or change the base and this could be fun but as it stands it really just tastes like chocolate ice cream with small PB cups mixed in that never have enough peanut butter inside. This flavor is far from inedible but I’ll stick with PB World when I need a B&J’s PB fix!

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Chocolate Del Fuego

Putting spicy into sweets is one of the hottest trends in the junk food universe. Sweet Heat Skittles and Starburst, Fire Sour Patch Kids, Butterfinger Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups, Fiery Snickers, and recently even a spicy spin on the lunchbox staple Fruit By The Foot. Yet as this fad has blown up over the last couple of years, it hasn’t really crept its way into the frozen aisle. No Choco-Jalapeno Ben & Jerry’s or Chili Mango Haagen-Dazs have popped onto my radar, but Baskin Robbins made the call that September was the right time to drop their own take on a Mexican classic. Chocolate Del Fuego combines chocolate ice cream fused with hints of cinnamon and chili with chocolate chips and a spicy tres leches swirl.

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REVIEW: Humphry Slocombe’s OCHO PB&J

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ice cream inspired by candy bars is something I can always get behind. Even better yet, if that candy bar recreation can tug at some deeply rooted childhood nostalgia it’s really up to the churners to lose, cause Imma be a mark through and through. To kick off the buildup to their tenth anniversary San Francisco OG flavor-smiths Humphry Slocombe joined forces with Oakland candy company Ocho to transform their PB&J chocolate bar into a scoop-able frozen treat. Ocho PB&J combines a milk chocolate ice cream with Ocho Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar pieces and a raspberry jelly swirl.

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Y’all already know I get down heavy with peanut butter and chocolate, and I think only lunatics don’t love the allure of a good PB&J, but for me the combination of all three flavors in one doesn’t always work. They’re three strong tastes that can at times compete too heavily for the limelight with a component getting lost in the mix or it all feeling like simply “too much”. Humphry Slocombe figured out how to remedy this and they executed it perfectly with the milk chocolate base. While HS are known for bolder choco-takes like Malted Milk Chocolate and Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt, this ice cream carries a much lighter chocolate flavor that takes a backseat to the jelly without too many commanding cocoa notes. It’s smooth and creamy but not too heavy, with just enough darkness to bring a hint of chocolaty presence.

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What’s really surprising about this flavor is that the only element with peanut butter in it are the candy bar chunks, because I get taste bud wafts of PB emanating through every spoonful. It isn’t strong enough to make me think that it’s a straight peanut butter ice cream but the nutty-ness comes through on bites without any lovely crunchy candy bar chunks. Humphry aren’t known for having flavors packed with lots of mix-ins but I’ve noticed them upping the density recently and this pint follows suite. There are plenty of decently sized hunks of bar that snap and chomp with wonderful chocolate peanut butter flavor that’s downright fun and addictive.

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The raspberry jelly swirl is the same house made one used by Ocho in their bar and it’s pretty much perfect. Decently thick but nice and runny with sweet tart berry notes that play to the strengths of both peanut butter and chocolate swimmingly. I really enjoy Ocho’s candy bar, but I think this ice cream version may be even better balanced for my palate as the dairy helps temper the more aggressive sweetness from the actual candy. No matter which way you scoop it, this is one of Humphry Slocombe’s strongest releases of the year and a fantastic version of the childhood classic that feels just so slightly fancy with its raspberry swirl and grade-A triple threat balancing act.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Humphry Slocombe ($9.99)

REVIEW: 7-Select Go! Yum Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Even though it’s still August, as Halloween candy lines the grocery store shelves and the breakfast cereal’s have gone full on orange, I was beginning to wonder if I would have anything new to scoop leading up to the equinox. I knew some of the best pumpkin ice cream’s from the main brands would make a triumphant return but who would pull a fast one and drop a gourdy surprise? Coming straight out of left field before the Pumpkin Spice Latte even hit Starbucks, 711 answered the call. I’ve never formally reviewed any of their ice creams on this site but have done a number of mini reviews on my Instagram, and for those who don’t know, 711 makes some pretty impressive and fun cheap ice cream. Go! Yum’s Pumpkin Pie combines pumpkin pie ice cream with cinnamon graham ribbons and pie crust pieces.

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The pumpkin pie ice cream is relatively mild in flavor with a dominant squashy pumpkin flavor brought to life by cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I’ve always loved the way the natural smooth and creamy texture of pumpkin puree compliments the richness of dairy to achieve a great balancing act that feels decadent without being too heavy. 711’s ice creams fall somewhere in between the super premium fat content of Ben & Jerry’s and the lighter but still premium quality of Blue Bunny. There’s absolutely no fluffy or gummy consistency but it also doesn’t have an intense density to it. It’s simply really solid mid-tier ice cream that’s perfectly in line with what I’ve had from Go! Yum before.

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Without a doubt the best part of this pint is the cinnamon graham ribbon. While I’ve had many great graham ribbons, like in Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake, this is the first time I’ve had one laced with cinnamon, and it’s awesome. It has a gritty graham crunch with sweet buttery notes that finishes with the gentlest zing of spice. I adore graham in ice cream and the cinnamon compliments it perfectly while also adding a bit more depth to the mellow spicy flavor in the base. The swirl is also thicker and comes along with some bigger bolder chunks than a lot of other graham ribbons, and the ice cream as a whole earns some extra points just for this one very strong component.

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The pie crust pieces are also really successful, and rather than just be soggy bland doughy bites, they have a touch of buttery caramelized crunch to them that brings another layer of texture and different taste than the ribbon. I oftentimes find the crust to be the least interesting part of a pumpkin pie and this mix-in takes the pint up a notch rather than drag it down, which is a surprising and welcome addition.

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Like most pies, and a lot of ice cream’s, this one gets better with a little extra love from whipped cream. I’m not sure why no mainstream companies have made a pumpkin pie ice cream with a swirl that replicates an integral part of the Thanksgiving experience, but that’s really my only gripe with this flavor as a whole. Given the strength of 711’s swirl game in Toasted S’mores and Mint Cookies and Cream, I wish they included one more layer, but as it stands this is a good and economically sound choice for getting your frozen pumpkin fix this spooky season.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: 711 ($3.99)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Beet Red Velvet Cheesecake (V)

It’s August, which means in Salt & Straw land it’s time to put some veggies into ice cream. The idea may seem a little strange at first but last year’s Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline was hands down one of my favorites of the year, and the Chocolate Zucchini Bread was no slouch either. Vegetables can be pretty incredible for a vessel of sweetness when paired up properly, whether for texture, flavor, or in this case, even just color. Beet Red Velvet Cake is a chocolate and beet coconut ice cream with chunks of homemade super dark gluten free chocolate cake and ribbons of vegan vanilla cheesecake.

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Caramel Cream Puff

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Baskin Robbins ($3.19)

REVIEW: Vice Cream’s Higher Grounds

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel

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.

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REVIEW: Blue Bunny’s PB ‘N Cones

There are little things in life that shouldn’t make me as happy as they do but I can’t deny the legitimate excitement they bring me. Finding my first pint of Blue Bunny is one such thing, and I am gleaming. Ice cream is at the top of my “I could eat this forever” pyramid, but I love variety, and as such, I prefer pints over all other sizes of larger containers. Blue Bunny usually comes in much bigger tubs, and since I barely get a chance to come across BB in San Francisco anyway, I’ll take whatever I can get. But a pint? Of Blue Bunny? This is amazing. PB ‘N Cones combines vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirls and dipped cone pieces.

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The vanilla ice cream is exceptionally smooth and creamy with a beautiful light and refreshing mouthfeel. Not light in a bad, fluffy, low calorie kind of way, but light on the tongue like a perfect soft serve with more richness. The vanilla flavor is subdued but present with a classic sweetness that’s just right for putting back in joy without blinking an eye.

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The chocolate covered cone pieces are executed flawlessly. They’ve kept all of their crunch and pop through the smooth dairy with a wonderful brown sugar flavor accented by creamy milk chocolate. Waffle cones are one of the most iconic ice cream accompaniments, and their success being a mix-in relies almost exclusively on their execution. With no soggy-ness in sight Blue Bunny really nailed it.

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Peanut butter will always be a welcome addition to any pint in my freezer and that rule of thumb is no different here. The swirl is present but not dominant with a nice saltiness that cuts through all the other predominantly sweet components. It isn’t the saltiest peanut butter swirl I’ve had but brings the necessary contrast and wonderful fatty nutty notes that make it one of the greatest things ever. Since I’m such a fiend I wouldn’t mind a little more ribbon action, but it weaves in and out of bites pleasantly, perfectly tempered and creamy without seizing up.

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Once again Blue Bunny have shown that they are the kings of the lower calorie ice cream game. No, it’s not light ice cream, but it’s a far cry from the 300 calorie per serving offerings from Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs; and eating BB is just as enjoyable as the more fattening options with lotsa fun factor to boot. PB ‘N Cones doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to overall flavor profile, but it delivers exactly what it promises and makes me a real happy bunny, er…boy.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Grocery Outlet ($1.99)