Ice cream sandwiches are one of those simple treats that can far surpass the sum of their parts. In this case, those parts are 1) vanilla ice cream and 2) chocolate-flavored wafer cookies. Together, these two simple items should create a perfect balance of cookie and ice cream.
Let's start with the cookies. The ideal cookies are firm but pliant. Out of the freezer, their undercarriage will soften ever-so-slightly, allowing the mixing of layers and infusing the very top millimeter of ice cream with the taste of the cookie. This also helps keep the sandwich as a unified whole. You want each bite to squish the components together under your teeth, not have the cookie layer easily peel off and separate. And of course they should taste of chocolate, like a cakey cousin of Oreos.
And the ice cream? That should be creamy and soft, certainly not icy or difficult to bite through. In fact I'd argue that the ice cream middles of grocery store ice cream sandwiches should have a whipped, airy quality which, after too long out of the fridge, will soften almost to the texture of soft-serve. The ice cream sandwich has a short half life, but that race to eat it at its prime is a necessary part of the experience.
Taste-wise, the ice cream should be identifiably vanilla. Its strength of flavor must be in harmony with the cookie, with each component easily tasted in one bite.
The stalwart in the ice cream sandwich category is of course the Good Humor Bar, though in my experience, Nestlé has become just as easy to acquire. Klondike, which is known for its eponymous Klondike Bar, also makes an ice cream sandwich. Are they all close copies of each other or are there more nuances to be found? I investigated.
I was immediately skeptical of this ice cream sandwich because of its shape. Like a Klondike Bar, it's perfectly square, when we all know that an ice cream sandwich should be rectangular.
So though that didn't affect the taste, there were other ways that sandwich missed the mark. The biggest issue was that the ice cream, even when tried on its own, had no flavor. The cookies dominated every bite with their not-quite-chocolate flavor, which included a discernible saltiness as well as a flavor that tasted strangely like graham.
By the time the other bars were melting into piles of goo, this one was still extra firm. Easier to eat, sure, but losing some of the magic. It also meant that the ice cream was dense and hard like it came from a pint, when it should have been light and creamy.
The ice cream in the Nestlé bar tasted strongly of vanilla soft serve. It was also the softest, feeling light as air on the tongue. The cookies were pliable, almost chewy, and they had the most chocolatey flavor, edging even more towards chocolate than plain cocoa.
A bite with both is a nice balance. First you get the vanilla, which is a little artificial but is balanced by the chocolate cookie crumb aftertaste (which lingers because it sticks to your teeth). There was the requisite messiness and it's-melting-too-fast panic, but the sandwich stayed intact enough to eat to the end without major mechanical failure.
So there is pleasurably messy, and then there is won't-come-out-of-the-wrapper messy, which is the Good Humor bar. The truth is that's something I remember from childhood, when I would lick the stuck crumbs off the wrapper before throwing it away. I guess my tastes have changed, because now I wish that the top of my bar was a little more smooth.
Of course this bar also tastes exactly like I remember, which potentially muddles the whole project. For me, a Good Humor ice cream sandwich is what an ice cream sandwich tastes like, so I have to beat back the drum of nostalgia.
I think I did a pretty good job, noticing that cookies were more limp and had a sticky texture that made it hard to eat. Their flavor was more subdued than the Nestlé wafers, bringing to mind the word "cocoa" over "chocolate." The ice cream is extremely light: it almost floats out the sides of the bar and tastes more like whipped cream than vanilla ice cream.
Wrong shape, wrong texture, wrong flavor—Klondike is out of the running. The decision to go with Nestlé or Good Humor comes down to a matter of taste. If you like a more aggressively flavored sandwich, Nestlé is for you. The cookies were undoubtedly the best, though some might find the vanilla flavoring to be too artificial. If you grew up eating Good Humor and loving it, it'll probably be hard to change your mind. It's mild cocoa taste and super melty texture is one of a kind.
What about you—what's your favorite brand of ice cream sandwich?