June 26, 2006

Ice Cream Sandwich

by psu

One curious constant in the American food tradition dating back at least as far back as I can remember is the neighborhood ice cream truck. These small white vans are similar in shape to a mail truck, but much more festive. They play a happy song as they move down the street, and the colorful pictures on their bodies promise an irresistable selection of sweet confection. As far as I can tell, these trucks are the same everywhere. And, as far as I can tell, they've sold basically the same products for the last thirty or forty years.

Everyone has their personal favorites. I was always partial to the "strawberry shortcake" on a stick. It has a sublime combination of vanilla ice cream, and artificially red center with a generic sort of "berry" flavor, and a sweet crusty coating on the outside that I guess represents "cake". The brilliance of the thing is that it's just big enough so you get a range of interesting textures as the ice cream center melts, but it's never so big that you lose any of the bar in liquid form.

For me, the other iconic item carried in these trucks, and convenience stores everywhere, is the ice cream sandwich. I still get cravings for these chocolate cookies filled with a slice of vanilla ice cream. The proper ice cream sandwich has a variety of peculiar characteristics. Just as the bread around your barbecue can't be too good, there is no room in the world for a "premium" ice cream sandwich. Fancy chocolate chip cookies with nuts will not do. Thick bars of ultra-dense organic fair trade french vanilla bean ice cream are pointless. On the other hand, the cookie does have to have a pleasing softness, and the ice cream needs to at least reach the quality of a Breyer's or Hagan-Das vanilla. A bit rich, creamy, not too sweet.

The Klondike version of the ice cream sandwich fails on all levels. My wife picked these up by mistake when I sent her off to satisfy one of my cravings. They have a cookie that is too crunchy and ice cream that is all ice and sugar, and no noticeable dairy product. Whole foods, constantly fighting down market, has organic ice cream sandwiches that are almost right, but not really. They get the cookie part right. Unfortunately, the ice cream part is too dense and too sweet. It does not melt enough while you eat it, and it is too sugary.

Happily, the food store attached to my local gas station and Starbucks plaza sells the perfect product. The cookies are soft, but with a nice texture. The ice cream is vanilla, but not too vanilla. Most importantly, they don't get too hard or too soft in the freezer, so as you consume the item, the ice cream transitions from a firm, but soft texture to a sort of half-melted on the outside and almost liquid on the inside perfection. As you take the last bite, you think maybe you'll lose a bit of the product out the sides of the cookie, but like the sun coming up in the morning, the ice cream gods intervene, and it never happens.

Posted by psu at June 26, 2006 08:34 PM | Bookmark This

I enjoy the Tofutti ice cream sandwiches that they sell at Whole Foods and elsewhere, however, they seem to lack a bit of substance.

Posted by ThomasW at June 26, 2006 08:32 PM

The only Tofuttis I like are the mint-chocolate-chip ones, which are inexplicably hard to find. Only one store in Portland seems to carry them on a regular basis. That's probably a good thing, or I'd eat more of them...

Posted by krevis at June 26, 2006 08:53 PM

Tofutti is not food. That is all.

Posted by psu at June 26, 2006 09:04 PM

NOOOO!!!! Not the *&$*! ice cream truck! We never had them as a kid (I grew up in mostly rural areas). I did live in Hawthorne, CA for 2 or 3 years though. Constantly, trucks roll by, playing that not quite to speed monkey chasing weasel song. It always parked in front of the house I lived in so that I'd have to listen to the song over and over again while they sold candy and ice cream to all the kids. Who would then discard all their wrappers on my lawn. Evil beasts, those ice cream trucks. I swear, if I had not moved when I did they would have driven me crazy.

And I love ice cream sandwiches, exactly as you have described (except the breyers quality part. I hate breyer's ice cream. It seems like too much ice and not enough cream).

Posted by Doug at June 26, 2006 09:05 PM

I was going to write "I'm sure Pete will find the idea of Tofuttis nauseating beyond compare", but I figured it would be redundant. Thanks for confirming that.

Posted by krevis at June 26, 2006 09:18 PM

If you consider Breyer's "quality" ice-cream, you really need to get out more.

Posted by pootie-tang at June 26, 2006 09:18 PM

Mr. pootie should learn to read. I didn't say anything about "quality"... I just said that's what is in the sandwich. I just used Breyer's as a reference point for generic store bought white ice cream. Give me a break.

Posted by psu at June 26, 2006 09:39 PM

There's an actual product called Tofutti? I thought that was just a Mr. Show thing. Scary.

Posted by Adam Rixey at June 26, 2006 10:54 PM

Maybe just a Bay Area thing, but: It's-It?

Posted by James Kew at June 26, 2006 11:16 PM

The Japanese have some pretty decent Ice Cream Sandwiches, but what they have that I really like is this bagged Ice Cream called Coolish. It's a soft ice cream in a (6oz-ish?) bag that you suck through a straw. It's not quality ice cream, but it's not bad either. Comes in just about any flavor and you never have to worry about it getting your hands all sticky. Hits the spot on the hot, muggy, summer days we get.

Posted by Wladyka at June 27, 2006 11:42 PM

Curse me for not living in Japan. I REQUIRE COOLISH. (Am I allowed CAPS_LOCK for emphasis?)

Posted by Lorien at June 29, 2006 01:40 AM

The ice cream trucks in my area play "Cucaracha". What signal are they trying to send?

Posted by ThomasW at June 29, 2006 05:05 PM

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