Ice Cream Sandwich

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.