REVIEW: Ample Hills’ No Sleep Til Pumpkin

It wasn’t until 2003, with Starbucks’ introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, that the two very different but very popular world’s of coffee and pumpkin pie would collide to create one of the most iconic and polarizing drinks of the last fifteen years. It’s hard to imagine a time when the two flavors didn’t coexist, and with everything from M&M’s to Peeps to Bath & Body Works body wash emulating the cafe concotion, it’s fitting that ice cream is no stranger to the coveted combination. As their sole pumpkin offering for 2017, Ample Hills brought back No Sleep Til Pumpkin, which is dark coffee ice cream with pieces of pumpkin ooey gooey butter cake.

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REVIEW: Ample Hills’ Big Ample Circus

Big Apple Circus began in New York in 1977 as an intimate European style one ring alternative to the then-popular and glitzy American three ring variety. While my personal experience with going to the circus has been limited to the mediocre Barnum & Bailey and incredible Cirque du Soleil, I am extremely happy that Big Apple is celebrating 40 years of showmanship. Anything that leads to a new limited collaboration with Ample Hills is one worthy of applause, and I have been anxiously clapping by myself in California waiting for this frozen phenom to arrive. Big Ample Circus combines sweet cream ice cream with popcorn toffee and red sugar-toasted peanuts.

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Apparently being taken out to the ball game is a lot like taking a trip to the circus. This is straight up Cracker Jacks ice cream and I’m root-root-rooting for Ample Hills because they absolutely destroyed it. The major difference here is that every box of Cracker Jacks I’ve had since surpassing the age of 9 has tasted cheap and shitty, and the quality on display in this pint is the polar opposite.

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The sweet cream base is absolute perfection. Plain without being boring. Sweet without being cloying. Rich without being too heavy. Everything that I want from a sweet cream is on display in full decadence here. The driving flavor is pure milky high quality dairy that serves as a wonderful canvas to the epic amount of mix-ins AH crammed into the pint. There’s a dense texture from the more heavy-handed custard style use of egg yolks, and the lavish custardy is dialed in immaculately.

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The popcorn toffee weaves its way through the pint in giant chunks and is where my Cracker Jacks nostalgia switch really got activated. The toffee is essentially pieces of caramel corn stuck together in buttery bricks with a deep roasted burnt sugar flavor that is roasty, toasty, and comforting. The pieces are crunchy but not in a tooth-shattering way, and crumble with a beautiful silky butteriness that gives way to chewy popcorn. There’s a lovely hint of saltiness that pokes its way through the sweetness and a perfect top rope balancing act is in full effect.

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There are so many wild looking red sugar swirls bleeding into the base from the toasted candy coated peanuts that I keep expecting to taste cherry, but the peanut blood is relatively flavorless. Even though so much of the color has swirled its way into the sweet cream, many of the peanuts still have their candy coating intact, and crunch with a satisfying sugary but roasted pop that is downright deadly. Candied nuts work incredibly well as a mix-in, bringing more fat and sugar to the already deviously delicious mixture of butter and cream. Anytime they make an appearance is a good move in my book, and this one reads like a masterpiece.

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Big Ample Circus is a flavor that achieves on every level. It takes me back to a simpler time, eating Cracker Jacks and watching elephants do funny tricks in top hats, but also presents an elevated and high quality ice cream that stands strong on its own – no gimmick required. Three simple elements all executed with finesse is the ultimate recipe for success, and this is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

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REVIEW: Ample Hills’ It Came From Gowanus

Gowanus is a largely industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, which was the original home of Dutch settlers in the mid-1600’s and later, the primary backdrop of the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War. As someone that has never been to New York, I don’t know much about the area, but when I hear “Gowanus” I think of a giant brown swamp monster, getting ready to feast on anything that comes across its path. Fittingly to my own mental misinterpretation of the name, Ample Hills’ It Came From Gowanus combines their darkest, saltiest chocolate ice cream with pieces of orange-scented brownies, and hazelnut crack cookies with white chocolate pearls.

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This is without a doubt the most aggressively salted ice cream I have ever had and it is nothing short of phenomenal. It is thick, rich, and indulgent with incredibly deep dark chocolate notes and a massive salty flavor that’s hard for my brain to comprehend. The intensity of the ice cream is so grand that it almost doesn’t even feel cold, like the amount of salt has kept the freezer from doing its job and kept the custard frozen yet a silky room temperature without melting. It’s a revelation in cocoa that any chocolate lover needs to experience and is up there with the greatest bases I’ve ever had the joy of tasting. Flavor-wise it hits the highest of highs and the lowest of lows running the full spectrum with a richness that is inescapable.

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The intensity of the experience continues with the mix-ins and my mouth continues to be mystified by what I am tasting. I’m not exactly sure what hazelnut crack cookies are but I get some bites of nutty-tasting, almost toffee-esque crunchy cookie bits with a beautiful buttery flavor, and other bites that seem just like a chunk of straight chocolate. The brownies come in varying sizes from little pieces to admirable hunks and have the perfect dense-yet-chewy texture that beautiful brownies can offer. Orange “scented” is the key word here, as there is just a hint of orange flavor poking through the chocolate abyss, and for my taste I wish there was a more dominant citrus pop, as a little bit of relief from the darkness would be a welcome contrast.

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There are little white flecks that come across my spoon every so often and I assumed those were some white chocolate, but it turns out they’re little pieces of Saltine crackers – and unfortunately they didn’t really work for me. They’ve gone completely stale in the ice cream and pull me out of the intensely lush trip that Gowanus had sent me on thus far. The actual white chocolate pearls are little choco-coated balls that pop with a fun crispy texture and are mostly on top of the cookies but a few have jumped ship and float alone in the sea of darkness.

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It Came from Gowanus is an absolute doctorate-certified lesson plan in how to elevate ice cream to new heights achieving both decadence and masterful artistry at the same time. It’s a shame this flavor is available in such limited quantities outside of New York as it’s a true treat that any frozen food explorer must try.

Rating: 9.5/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com (Taste of NY 4-Pack)

REVIEW: Ample Hills’ The Commodore

Vanderbilt Avenue is the street that houses the first Ample Hills scoop shop, where the company cut their teeth in 2011 cranking out all of their ice cream from its small kitchen. The street gets its name from the lore of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was an 1800’s business tycoon known for owning the New York Central Railroad, and more importantly, inventing the potato chip. Yes, he was that picky dude who sent his fried potatoes back for being too soggy. The cook, George Crum, responded in passive aggressive fashion by slicing them mega thin, too thin to be eaten with a fork, and they were the surprise hit of the evening. James, also known as Commodore Cornelius, literally paved the streets in gold with his advances in transportation, but he also blessed our tastebuds with the then dubbed “Saratoga Chips”. No slouches to churning out thoughtful delicious custard, Ample Hills’ The Commodore is a Vanderbilt store exclusive flavor that combines a salted honey base with clusters of chocolate covered potato chips and housemade honey comb candy.

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In a completely un-shocking twist, this is the most restrained level of sweetness I’ve ever had in a honey based ice cream and it’s refreshingly delicious. The salt brings not only a different flavor but a different feeling as well – with a slight tingle that coats my tongue. I love the traditionally sweet and creamy bases that honey can deliver, but the salt in this one helps reduce the sugary notes and heighten the deep golden flavor of the sacred bee-vomit. It isn’t quite savory, but it has just enough of those salty earth tones that is doesn’t taste aggressively sweet, and I find myself wanting to eat more to figure out this unique sensation.

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The chocolate covered potato chips are absolutely perfect. The milk chocolate adds a great sweet punch and has preserved all the crunch of the deliciously crispy fried chips. Cornelius would be completely lit on this pint. There’s a big genuine potato flavor that comes through like grabbing a handful from a bag of Kettle brand, and the saltiness still pops despite the minerals’ presence in the base. It might seem odd at first glance, but the mashup of chocolate and honey and chips really works and hits that ideal balance of interesting yet craveable that all craft companies should aspire to.

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The honey comb candy in my pint has stayed somewhat intact but has also partially dissolved into little pools of honey caramel, and I’m not complaining. The pieces chomp with a lovely crystalized crunch that further release the deep golden honey notes, while the saucy caramel-esque sauce bleeds into the ice cream, once again deepening the honey presence. The honey comb is without a doubt the sweetest component in the container and adds that extra layer of candy crunch that makes The Commodore eat like a true sweet treat.

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This flavor, usually only available at one store in one state is currently for sale as part of the Taste of NY 4 pack through the end of the month. If this sounds remotely delicious to you, I can guarantee you will love it, and the investment will be worth the cost.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

REVIEW: Ample Hills’ The Munchies

The munchies. A term often associated with the insatiable hunger that comes along with getting mega-baked – a sensation I learned a whole lot about in my teenage years. I remember those gripping moments of hunger that simply could not be stopped, and every single flavor was amplified in a way I never thought was possible. Now when I hear the term I tend to think about the great Flamin’ Hot mix of chips, or creating my own munch-able bowl of sweet and salty goodness. In an attempt to channel the epic-ness that is experiencing the munchies, Ample Hills have crafted a signature flavor baring the same name, which combines a pretzel-infused ice cream with clusters of Ritz crackers, potato chips, and mini M&M’s.

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The pretzel-infused base is impressively on point. It’s creamy and smooth with just a hint of gumminess that I’m guessing comes from the gluten, and a flavor that reminds me of the tough, dark exterior of a giant soft pretzel. I know this ice cream is channeling hard pretzels, and that’s how it was made, but it speaks so truly to genuine pretzel flavor that I’m reminded of the similarities that good quality small hard pretzels have to the big soft ones, and not just little crunchy salty sticks. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact profile but you know when you taste it there’s an essence that makes a pretzel a pretzel and that essence is in shining form here. The one element I wish came through more prominently is saltiness, as the base has pretty much zero salty presence, and that’s a defining characteristic of the twisty snack that would have worked really well to liven the whole experience up.

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The caramelized clusters in here are really great, and the caramelization aspect is key to keeping the crunch in tact in the frozen abyss. Little pieces of crumbly pretzel and the bigger balls of Ritz and potato chips add a great salty pop to the experience with a wonderful buttery chew. As good as these pieces are, I wish there were more. Throughout the container there were only a handful of the caramelized balls, and beyond that it was mostly small pieces that didn’t live up to the big satisfying crunch that the larger ones delivered.

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The mini M&M’s don’t really work for me. While I know regular M&M’s can have a problem with hard-freezing in ice cream, the mini version seem to have nearly evaporated into the ice cream and I never got any bites with a good chocolate flavor. The color of the shell bleeds into the base and is very visually appealing but does nothing to add any depth of flavor or texture to the ice cream, which is a bummer given the less than desirable amount of clusters.

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I love the innovation that went into this ice cream but the execution left something to be desired. With a name like the munchies it needs to bring a swift kick of sweet and salty satisfaction and the disappearance of the chocolate and lack of saltiness in the base didn’t give my tastebuds the ultimate thrill they were seeking. With a better mix in density and more prominent chocolate this flavor could be a true classic, but as it stands it’s just good, but still more impressive than most pints you could pick up at the grocery store.

Rating: 8/10 initially, 9/10 now (see below)
Found at: amazon.com via Ample Hills

UPDATE: after reading my review and seeing pictures, Ample Hills reached out and sent me a new pint that had much better quality control and way more mix-ins, which bumps the flavor up to a solid 9/10.

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REVIEW: Ample Hills Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

Ample Hills are a Brooklyn based ice cream company churning out some of the finest gourmet custard (egg yolk heavy ice cream) in the United States. They pasteurize their cream on site and bake almost all of their mix-ins in house, creating inventive and delectable flavors from top to bottom that can be ordered online or scooped at one of their seven shops in the New York area. Recently some of their flavors have been made available on Amazon, which cuts down on some of the very high shipping costs associated with ice cream and has made cream-heads like myself jump and salivate with joy. My first rendezvous with Ample Hills is Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, which combines vanilla custard with pieces of gooey butter cake – a short, dense, butter-heavy cake that originated in St. Louis in the 1930’s.

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The vanilla custard is insanely creamy, rich, and dense with an absolutely perfect melty mouthfeel that is divine. The vanilla flavor isn’t super pronounced, but instead has a layered cheesecake-y depth that isn’t over the top in terms of sweetness but is through the roof with fatty dairy notes that teeter on savory like cream cheese without the tang. The abundant use of egg yolks gives a different body to the ice cream that is very unique, reminds me of eating custard cones as a youngster, and is overall fantastic. Heavy yet fluid, the only way to truly describe it is succulent.

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The pieces of gooey butter cake are ample and diverse, with a rich, buttery, slightly floury presence that really flourish against the base. Some of the pieces are crunchy with a caramelized exterior that give way to a softer cake interior like the lovely edge of a brownie, and some of them are purely soft with the perfect ratio of dense and squishy. The harder pieces almost feel like they’ve been dunked in a caramel and the slightly burnt brown sugar flavor is phenomenal. This is my first time ever having ooey gooey butter cake in any application and I can’t wait to try it again.

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With a base that is straight forward yet decadent and a singular mix-in that is executed flawlessly, this is one of the most perfect pints money can buy from one of the most flourishing ice cream companies in the United States. An absolute thrill to eat from beginning to end, I recommend getting your hands on some Ample Hills as soon as possible.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: Amazon.com

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REVIEW: The Peanut Principle’s “Going Green” Pistachio Butter

I’m a nut butter nut, and when it comes to creamy, fatty, crave able jars of spreadable protein I’m always down to try something new.  I’ve had many types of pulverized nuts in my days, including Trader Joes’ great Mixed Nut version, but never have I had or seen a pistachio butter…and the times, they are a changin’.  The Peanut Principle are a gourmet nut butter company from New York, making buttery goodness out of nearly every kind of nut from plain and flavored peanut to hazelnut, walnut, macadamia, pumpkin seed, and lots more.  I ordered a huge sampling of peanut butters last year and was overall very impressed, so when they announced pistachio I had to jump on the opportunity.  Going Green is a creamy pistachio butter that’s as basic as it gets, with the lone ingredient being organic dry roasted pistachios – no salt, no sugar, no BS.

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The taste of this butter is everything the look of the jar promised – pure, rich, thick, intense pistachio.  It’s a very unique-to-the-green-nut-flavor that is deep and roasty, slightly sweet, and cleanly fatty.  The texture is insanely thick but less lip-smackingly mouth-drying than peanut butter tends to be, which I think might be due to the lack of salt.  Despite the absence of saltiness there’s no lack of pop, as the nuts themselves pack a big wallop of flavor that needs little help to be incredibly robust and huge.

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On toast the flavor becomes a bit more subdued and blends in with the bread well.  Some of the richness mellows but the sweet flavor of the pistachio stays intact.  As good as that flavor is, I didn’t think the butter offered as much as a traditional peanut butter or salted butter so I tried it with cinnamon and sugar, which still was just okay, and then strawberries, which also were just alright.  I could see this being tasty spread on some pancakes, dolloped onto some vanilla ice cream, or used in conjunction with some pistachio pieces to make a killer stuffed french toast.

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Make no mistake, this is a premium product, and at $11.99 for an eight ounce jar it’s four times the cost of a regular peanut butter, even from a gourmet company like Peanut Principle, whose sixteen ounce jar of regular PB goes for $5.99.  It may be expensive, but it absolutely delivers on what it set out to do, and packs the punch of what feels like hundreds of pistachio’s into a small glass jar.  Pistachio’s aren’t one of my favorite nuts, but if you’re a fiend for the little green guys, this stuff will send your morning bread into hyperdrive, or be a perfect pick-me-up straight from the jar, without the hassle of shells.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: http://www.peanutprinciple.com ($11.99)

Quick Nutrition: 2 Tbsp. – 160 cals – 13g fat – 3mg sodium – 8g carbs – 2g fiber – 2g sugar – 6g protein