Hidden amongst the layers of epic fudge-y peanut buttery decadence in Caffe Panna’s New Years Pack is a not so subtle homage to one of Ben & Jerry’s all time sellers. Black Cherry Chunk is fresh black cherry ice cream studded with amarena cherries and Callebaut chocolate chunks.
Yes, this ice cream, in recipe, is a carbon copy of Cherry Garcia, yet in execution is taken to a whole new level — I love this pint. The simplicity and derivative nature of this profile isn’t likely to turn heads, but its place within this pack is brilliant and oh-so-necessary. The base is perfectly sweet with a genuine tart cherry flavor and a surprising saltiness in the finish. It may or may not be from the use of cream cheese in the base but there’s a level of salt and richness I didn’t expect from a fruit ice cream and it’s fantastic.
The prominent shards of Callebaut chocolate are also sensational. They have a lovely bittersweet flavor and hint of fruitiness that works so well with the base it’s much more complex than meets the eye. I like Cherry Garcia and its old time-y palette more than most ice cream bloggers seem to, and this blows it out of the water. The shards are thick enough to have a satisfying snap but thin enough to finish with a delightful melt-in-your-mouth sensation.
The literal cherry on top of this surprisingly satisfying salted fruity pint are the candied cherries. They have -zero- iciness and are coated in a wonderful syrup that makes them quite sweet in the best way. There’s a nice floral and slightly boozy note that reminds me of amaretto or almond extract coming from the cherries as well. I don’t know if that’s from the type of cherry or the base of the syrup but I love it, just like every component in this homage to the homage of the great Mr. Garcia.
Chocolate and snickerdoodle? It definitely sounds festive, but does it work? Caffe Panna’s Winter Pack is full of nostalgia-laden crowd pleasing flavor profiles that are so classic they simply make sense; and others that push the boundaries of merry coexistence, including this one. Cocoa Snick is panna and dark cocoa ice cream swirled with marshmallow and studded with snickerdoodle cookie dough.
So, does it work? Sort of. Let me start with the highlight — the marshmallow swirl. This very well may be the greatest marshmallow swirl I’ve ever graced my tastebuds with. It is deliciously sticky sweet without being cloying, and has an aggressive yet perfectly fitting vanilla flavor that hits incredibly hard. It finishes with something akin to a sugary honey taste, and thanks to the immaculate quality control I get to relive that beautiful sweet stickiness over and over again.
For the other two components there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the dark cocoa and doodle elements don’t clash, but the bad news is that’s because the base is pretty light in cocoa. It has a beautiful velvety Panna texture with ample sweet dairy notes but the “dark” component is severely lacking. For how sweet and abundant the marshmallow is I really wanted a hefty dose of bitterness in the base to compliment it, and it just isn’t there. Conceptually I can see how Caffe Panna went for a hot cocoa type of experience, and from that angle it’s fairly accurate, but off balance. It’s not bad by any means, just not strong enough to stand up to the greatest ‘mallow of all time.
The snickerdoodle cookie dough is also not quite what I anticipated. I love snickerdoodle’s, more specifically if you’ve read this blog for the last six years you know I love cinnamon, and I don’t get much cinnamon from these hefty chunks of dough. There’s a little bit of cinnamon there, but oddly enough what I taste more than anything is nutmeg, specifically a kind of eggy nutmeg note in the finish very similar to egg nog. Which isn’t a bad flavor per say, but it’s very odd in this context, especially with how intensely sweet it is as well. The dough has great cookie dough texture — nice and soft but firm with a grittiness throughout that channels raw dough’s sugar crystal crunch wonderfully.
I guess there’s a reason I’ve never paired a marshmallow-heavy cup of hot chocolate with a plate of snickerdoodle’s for Santa; he likes milk and I like coffee. In Cocoa Snick there’s tons of dough and tons of marshmallow and tons of potential, but ultimately this pint lacks the balance of bitterness or a robust cinnamon punch to make it one that will be on my Christmas list next year.
To keep up with the times, I’ve been doing more and more short form video reviews. I love writing, I really do, but sadly a lot of people don’t like to read! I’ll admit I’m even guilty myself, I listen to a lot of podcasts and watch hella YouTube. Lucky for me, I also really like shooting and editing video, so it’s another side of me I’ll gladly bring out if the people enjoy it. Below are two reviews from Caffe Panna’s latest Winter Pack, and let me tell you, they’re bangers! If you have any questions I’m more than happy to answer them in the comments below and feel free to reach out on TikTok or Instagram as well! 🙂
Thin Mints get all the love, but let’s be real, Samoas are the best Girl Scout cookie. Their combination of chocolate, caramel, coconut, and shortbread are divine, and that flavor is absolutely primed to excel as an ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s tried earlier this year with its Chewy Gooey Cookie flavor, which had some promise but failed to hit the highs of the delicious purple-boxed cookie. But have no fear, local lactose-free churner Bad Walters gave the profile a different twist and if you’re like me and think that Samoas are the best Girl Scout cookie and that Phish Food is the pinnacle of Ben & Jerry’s standard lineup— you’re gonna want to pay attention to the next time this one drops. Scouts Honor is a dark chocolate custard with salty caramel swirls and coconut macaroons.
I was curious how well a chocolate base would translate the Samoas experience but I’m happy to report that the bittersweet chocolate isn’t overbearing, and the Samoas profile is on full display in flavor HD. The base is intensely dark and tastes fantastic. As I noted in my review of Dream Team, it isn’t as smooth and lush as every other base I’ve had from Bad Walters, and it’s a tough trade off because the flavor is SO good but the texture gets held back a bit. I found this to be mostly remedied with extra temper time, but it still has a touch more grittiness than anything else I’ve scooped from the burgeoning local legend. You can see in the pictures how it’s a bit chunky, and I’m pretty sure it’s from the heavy handed cocoa powder. I wish it was more velvety but I love it regardless; and admire its bold punchy chocolate flavor that stands tall amongst a crowd of milkier chocolates.
The chocolate base is 75% altered, and honestly augmented, by the insane amount of salted caramel swirls; and it absolutely rules. As a Phish Food freak this dark chocolate meets caramel combo hits me right in the heart. The caramel has a perfectly caramelized slightly burnt taste that keeps it from getting too sweet. It has a flavor closer to Salt & Straw with a thinner texture more akin to B&J. It’s a fantastic medium that works so incredibly well with the strong base. Phenomenal.
The macaroons are where this pint has the chance to make or break the whole theme, and let me tell you, this shit is POPPIN’. There are SO many macaroons and they are next level perfection. Who knew macaroons are such a good mix-in? I think this is my first time having them in ice cream and I desperately need it to not be the last. The sensually sweet balls of buttery shredded coconut pop up everywhere, with caramelized crunchy bits on the bottom that actually send me over the moon. The saltiness that comes through, along with the toothy chew, is better than I could have ever imagined. Not to mention the many crevices for the chocolate and caramel to soak into, making for a singular mix-in that’s anything but static. Scouts Honor 100% channels a strong love for Samoas, but it’s a decadent and absurdly good pint of ice cream on its own (scouts) merit, too.
Caffe Panna’s Fall Pack is essentially a love letter to cinnamon, spice, and everything nice. Amid pints of apple crisp, pumpkin s’mores, and cinnamon buns, there’s one simply titled “👻” with only one base flavor and one mix-in. Is it “Ghost?” Is it “Ahh!” Is it “Boo”?. I like Boo, so I’m gonna stick with Boo. However you want to say it, 👻 is cinnamon stick infused Panna sweet cream with chewy ranger fudge chunks.
The cinnamon stick infused Panna sweet cream has the quintessential texture that makes Caffe Panna so special. It is velvety and rich and looks just as beautiful as it tastes. This base is simple elegance, with a mild sweet cinnamon undertone that’s anything but scary. As a cinnamon freak I could handle a lot more, but I actually appreciate the restraint here, letting the high quality dairy notes in the sweet cream really shine, with some subtle spicy accents to carry the profile.
When it comes to decadent candy I’m actually not a very big fan of fudge. Oftentimes it’s WAY too sweet, lacking balance, and a bit gritty — not here, this fudge is excellent. I’m hard pressed to remember how many times I’ve had actual fudge in an ice cream. I’ve had plenty of fudge swirls, and I adore the ganache from Salt & Straw, but straight up boardwalk style fudge chunks in ice cream might be a new thing for me; at least of this quality. The Rangers Fudge chunks are big and take up nearly my entire spoon, with a firmness that’s dense but just soft enough to spoon through when properly tempered; revealing a potent bittersweet chocolate flavor that leans into the sweet with only a touch of salt. I prefer breaking the chunks in half to enjoy them with more of the creamy base for a classic fudge sundae type of texture and taste.
This pint evolves a bit half way through, the fudge chunks get denser and some of the fudge starts to bleed into a bit of a swirl — unexpected and delicious.
The flavors on display are simple and classic, yet so well executed I can’t deny how much I love this deceivingly stripped back homage to two ingredients that can, at times, be at odds with each other. BOO may be the most simple flavor in the Fall Panna Pack but it is far from one that should be glossed over.
Another Milk Bar ice cream…another mixed bag. I rambled on about my relationship with the growing gourmet grocery brand in my last review so I won’t go on about it here. In short, it’s complicated, and this latest creation featuring another flavor combination I adore isn’t making it any easier. Chocolate Mint Cookies N’ Cream is chocolate mint ice cream with chocolate cookie batter, cookies n’ cream crunch, and creamy mint swirl.
I love the idea behind this pint (14 ounces, I know, but for simplicity’s sake) but it has the same foundational issue as the last couple that I have scooped: dual flavored bases. Milk needs to get away from this because it rarely works, and it doesn’t work here. Chocolate mint should be one of the few dual flavored bases that can be pulled off with ease, like in Ben & Jerry’s excellent Minter Wonderland, but just like in Milk’s PB pint, this one tastes off. Specifically I’m tasting spearmint, which is not the type of mint I want to taste with chocolate. It’s cloyingly fragrant with a strange herbaceous quality, lacking any sharp minty punch to contrast the rich chocolate. Don’t get it twisted, the texture is still fantastic, I really love a lot of Milk Bar’s attention to high quality ingredients, but the flavor is bizarre and not at all what I wanted from this gorgeous green-streaked ice cream.
Speaking of gorgeous green, the most intriguing part of this container going into it was the creamy mint swirl, and I’m sad the mint flavor is very much the same spearmint-y adjacent oddity from the base, minus the chocolate. I find the spearmint a little less off-putting when on its own and paired with the sweet syrupy texture of condensed milk, but its creme de menthe hue still feels out of place against the sea of chocolate.
As always with Milk Bar, aside from the smooth silky texture of their bases, the real standout are the swirls. The chocolate cookie batter is the same as PB Cookie Crush and it’s just as phenomenal here as it was there. Bittersweet, gritty, and full of rich chocolate flavor, it’s the component that keeps me digging and digging for every last bit of its cake batter-y divinity. The moment Milk Bar put this swirl into a more straight ahead and determined base with a complimentary mix-in is the day it changes the grocery ice cream game — it’s so good. The cookies n’ cream crunch is what you’d expect, essentially pieces of Oreo cookies dispersed throughout with a softened texture and slight crunch; nothing special or new but essential for the concept.
As I finish the container the spearmint fades more to the back of the profile, partially from the flavor fatigue of the base and partially from the mint swirl being absent in the last 1/3 of the pint. There is an abundance of potential with this ice cream but its flaws make it one I’m not likely to ever revisit, despite some really high moments of brilliant execution in the base texture and cookie batter swirl. Maybe whatever mint extract this is is like cilantro and my tongue is cursed, so your mileage may vary, but as it stands, I would approach this wintery profile with caution.
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.
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.