It’s finally officially autumn. Which means that the inside of Trader Joe’s looks like a pumpkin goblin vomited all over the entire store. And it’s goddamn beautiful. While many brands started rolling out their spooky seasonal selection in August, Trader Joe’s tends to wait until a more tasteful mid-September, but when they bring it, they BRING it. Pumpkin soup and pumpkin chips and pumpkin spreads and pumpkin pasta and on and on and on. Of course, not excluding pumpkin cookies. Somehow in my autumnal escapades last year I didn’t pen my thoughts on Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s. In fact, I didn’t even eat them last year. But the time has come for me to formally enter TJ’s mock-eo into the pumpkin catalog. Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s are pumpkin sandwich cookies with a pumpkin cream filling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Found at: 711 ($3.99)
The Keebler Elves and I go way back. In fact, in the realm of animated food characters I kinda consider them my homies. At the very least I feel that way about head elf Ernie. I mean, we follow each other on Twitter, and he only follows 116 people so we must be tight, right? At least I thought we were until it took me what felt like three and a half years (two months) to track down the latest Special Batch cookies from the man himself. For whatever reason our relationship seems to have been splintered, he no longer slides into my DM’s, and I was hoping he was just too busy whippin’ up the best of batches to finally schedule that baking seminar we were supposed to embark on together. Nonetheless, Chocolate Caramel Fudge Stripes finally made their way into my snack-osphere and their chocolate fudge shortbread cookie drizzled with rich caramel stripes is certainly going to brighten my almost-autumn day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($3.19)
I could’ve sworn the Neapolitan resurgence was over. After Peeps, M&M’s, and Cocoa Puffs did their best to revive the tri-flavor palate earlier in the year it felt like a done deal; but never leave out sneaky stylish Trader Joe’s when it comes to cashing in on a new trend. Last year the company released two of the best new sandwich cookies with Matcha Joe Joe’s and Mocha Joe Joe’s both being incredibly strong contenders holding their own against the handful of gems Nabisco dropped amid their flurry of Oreo’s. A quiet cookie drop to mark the last month of summer feels like a fitting way for Trader Joe’s to ease into the holiday insanity they’ve become known for. Neapolitan Joe Joe’s combine one chocolate wafer with one vanilla wafer and a strawberry crème filling.
Gelato Fiasco are a Maine-based gelato company who began scooping to locals in 2007 and have since found distribution in over 2,000 grocery stores in the United States. They’re one of those East coast companies who’s presence has been pretty meager in the Bay Area, but as with many smaller brands, 2018 has seen a rise in their visibility and some of the more unique flavors are starting to pop up on my side of town. As a company that strives to “offer bold, intense flavors with a dessert whose commitment to quality and integrity is unmatched” I’m pretty stoked to delve into their creamy universe. Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel combines a mascarpone gelato with pistachio nuggets and a caramel sauce.
I was really looking forward to scooping this flavor and I’ve gotta admit, I’m fairly bored with it. The mascarpone base is relatively thin and lacking any of the rich cheesy funk that I’m looking for. It has a decent sweetness and isn’t bad, but it just isn’t exciting in any way. I know it’s a gelato so I’m not expecting a heavy fattiness, but the big pop of flavor I want, or even a subtle nuanced finesse simply isn’t there. It does have a good texture, although it finishes a bit thin, and is light years away from similar bases made by companies like Coolhaus.
The second letdown for me in this pint are the “pistachio nuggets” which to be quite honest are much more like pistachio flakes. I love pistachios, both poppin’ them out of their shell for a snack and as an ice cream mix-in, and they’re so finely chopped here that I barely get any of their unique fatty flavor or texture. They’re about the same size as the chopped peanuts that come with a McDonald’s sundae, which might work if they were sprinkled heavily on top, but they’re so thinly dispersed that I miss any real pistachio presence.
The best part about this flavor by far is the caramel sauce, which once again isn’t too prominent, but is very delicious. Thin and sweet with a slight touch of salt it has the consistency and flavor that I crave in a great swirl and the bites with a nice glob helped elevate the experience to something pretty enjoyable. Had there been some bigger pieces of pistachio to go along with the sauce I would have ate this one in sheer glee.
For an introductory review to the skillet this is a pretty mediocre outing, but I haven’t lost faith in Gelato Fiasco and will try a couple more flavors before moving on from the brand. I will never judge a company on one flavor alone, and this might just be a rare miss for a generally well regarded churner bursting their way into the west coast mainstream.
Found at: Sprouts ($5.99)
Note: you may have noticed the wild lack of photos in this review compared to my usual posts – somehow my other two or three pictures of this ice cream vanished 😦
It’s the last week of July, which in commercial snack land means Halloween is right around the corner. Yes, even though in California, and especially in the Bay, we have yet to hit our temperature max, I know in my spooky spicy cinnamon-pumping heart that once that second week of August rolls around there will be pumpkins EVERYWHERE. So before I start spiraling into the autumnal abyss, it seems fitting to cap things off with one last summery s’mores treat, especially since I’m a pretty big cheerleader for Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Spice Rolls. Little Debbie’s S’mores Cake Rolls combine a graham cake with crème filling and a chocolate drizzle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Found at: Grocery Outlet ($1.99)