We Tried 12 Ice Cream Sandwiches and This Is the Best
To me, few things bring to mind those carefree summer days of childhood like a good ol' ice cream sandwich. And with the most consumed in July, a month ahead of National Ice Cream Sandwich Day on August 2, I know I'm not the only one. In fact, nearly any kid from the suburbs and some cities can likely recall dashing toward the sound of a truck's tune like an auditory scavenger hunt, clutching a fistful of wrinkled dollar bills or dirty coins in chase of a cold novelty. Some loved the Good Humor strawberry shortcake, others 'sicles: Popsicles, Creamsicles, Fudgesicles.
But to me, the ice cream sandwich was it. It's a perfect marriage of chewy texture, creamy goodness, sweet vanilla, earthy chocolate, and sticky fingers. Its hand-warmed wafer was a perfect shield for my sensitive teeth from the cold ice cream, and equally protected the ice cream from melting too quickly. It's genius.
The concept is an old one, around since about 1899. Back then, slices of ice cream were sold wrapped in paper from New York City street carts and called hokey pokeys. They evolved to graham crackers instead of paper, then into fork-and-knife iterations once the Wall Street set got into them, enriched with sponge cake and crustless cake outers. However, the way we know them best, with classic chocolate soft wafers sandwiching silky, thick vanilla cream in a rectangular brick, didn't become the standard until the 1940s, when Jeremy Newberg popularized them for nickel apiece at Pittsburgh's former Forbes Field.
Today, they're made in factories and by artisans alike, and much the same way by both. Their cookie layers begin as hard-baked wafers so intensely crunchy, the filling squirts out of the sides. But once frozen with their filling, they soften from contact with the ice cream, adhering to it and blurring the lines to create a semi-solid, wonderful treat that smacks of finger-licking nostalgia.
They're available in a variety of mouthwatering flavors these days, including my adult favorite, Mint Chocolate Chip by FatBoy, half-and-half swirls like Skinny Cow's, and limited editions like FatBoy's Sugar Cookie and Alden's Organic Non-Dairy Key Lime. Iterations that have become classics on their own include chocolate chip cookies through Friendly's or Dean's, waffle cone cookies with Tillamook, or Oreos with Klondike. But for the purposes of this taste test, we wanted to find the best of the best classic take: the chocolatiest, most structurally sound yet supple wafer, the creamiest, richest vanilla-ish filling, and the most take-me-back-to-the-playground one. We wanted to know if any newcomers were dark-horse entrants, if innovators could improve on classics, and if organic made a difference. Here's what we found from the 12 ice cream sandwiches we tried, listed here from worst to best based on taste.
And for more, don't miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Annie's Organic Vanilla Ice Cream Mini Sandwiches
The name of this sammie doesn't lie: They are indeed mini. Normally, in the case of ice cream sandwiches, that's a negative, but in this case, it was a plus, because they were … not great. Newer to market and boasting no high-fructose corn syrup and only eight ingredients in the ice cream, the very sweet ice cream had a rich French vanilla flavor that kept its solid state well for a nice, firm cut as we tasted. However, the wafer proved to be its undoing.
While we appreciated the cute bunny logo stamp on the wafer, the odd green tinge to the light brown, dog-biscuit color that somehow doesn't translate into photos (both on the box and in this taste test) was decidedly off-putting. Unfortunately, that feeling carried over into the flavors of the wafer—or lack thereof. The taste impression was much more of carob chips and pea protein with a barley tone to it as opposed to chocolate, and that gummy, vegetative taste stayed in our mouths too long after the bite was gone.
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Alden's Organic Old-School Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich
The beautiful box promises "stick-to-your-fingers cookies" next to a long list of virtues, such as no corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or flavorings, GMOs, or carrageenan (which, by the way, is a perfectly fine ingredient). With only seven ingredients in the ice cream itself and real organic vanilla, this option had me palpably excited to try it.
Beneath the wrapper was a wafer that was a 7 on a beige-to-black scale—darker than its circular sister (who we'll get to). Speckled with slightly sparkly dots that looked like the ghosts of baked-in coarse salt, it held firm ice cream that was noticeably warmer-hued, bringing forth an association with grass-fed dairy (which it is not). Sadly, the high-end associations ended there. Right off the bat, there was a weird, chemical, preservative flavor from the ice cream with a pronounced feeling of—ironically—artificiality. It tasted somewhat sour, which was not helped by a floury wafer that turned into a paste, whose chocolate flavor was not distinct enough to salvage it.
365 Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches
With the only copy on the box alluding to nostalgia, we thought it could be safely assumed that this was simply a more virtuous version of the classic, like those coming-of-age movies where a young boy sees the girl he's teased all his life after a summer at camp to realize she's blossomed. Instead, this was more like fast-forwarding 25 years and bumping into her at a townie bar on a Tuesday, looking okay but carrying some baggage.
Aside from it being organic, free of GMOs, and less a very few grams of sugar, it's not particularly healthier. The wafer was lightly salt-speckled, as Alden's Organic's was, and of similar color, but that's where the commonalities ended. The ice cream had an unmistakably malted element, with a very long finish and a sweetness that lingered. The wafer was firm and had a bread-like quality to it, particularly with a grainy flavor that was reminiscent of rye or barley. Its finish was bitter, and all of these characteristics together made it feel like it was more a stout beer ice cream sandwich than the ones of our days of innocence. It was not offensive, but it was certainly surprising and definitely not the one to choose to channel yesteryear.
So Delicious Vanilla Bean Sandwiches
Coconut has become a breakout star for dairy alternatives in recent years, its fat-filled character and rich mouthfeel emulating cream like nothing else. Many makers have managed to tone down its distinctive flavor, too, winning over even those who are not coconut fans. So Delicious, though, is not one of them, instead proudly steering into that profile.
Another mini, these non-dairy desserts don't pretend not to be coconut substitutes. You can smell and taste this primary ingredient right away. Unlike when you cook with coconut milk, where you get the creamy aspect and lose some of the forwardness of coconut, this is the opposite. Like traditional ice cream sandwiches, these recall a feeling of summer, but less so one at home as they steer into sunscreen and island vibes hard. In fact, one reviewer exclaimed mid-bite, "It's a piña colada!" as it's so strongly coconutty that the wafer's already low-key chocolate flavor is drowned out. The fudgy texture makes it a great vehicle, but the chocolate is simply not strong enough to compete with the fruit's impression and its extreme sweetness.
Blue Bell Ice Cream Sandwiches
Try to look past this terrifying box, where a scarily, overly made-up Raggedly Ann gummily leers at you through terrifying tarantula falsies. Stow the packaging away quickly, as we did, to avoid its discomfort from clouding our impartial judgment for a fairer blind taste test of this over 100-year-old Texan brand's entrant for the ice cream sandwich games.
Underneath the darkest brown—nearly black—wafers of the entire dozen, this ice cream was a stark white in immediate contrast that seemed almost to glow off the plate. Even separated from the cookie, it was still the brightest of the bunch, but its sparkle is short-lived, melting quickly due to an airy fluffiness more akin to whipped cream than ice cream. This similarity carried through to the flavor, which is light, mild, and not too sweet. The wafer was also not that sweet and much less chocolatey than we expected from such a deep coloration. Instead, it was more on the savory end of the spectrum, with coffee and Dutch cocoa notes that impart bitterness to the bite. The insubstantial ice cream gets lost in all of that earthiness, as well as on every bite as it squishes out copiously.
Yasso Vanilla Bean Sandwiches
This brand's entire premise lies in using Greek yogurt in its dessert formulas, but the question has to be asked: is it a health halo? Well, kind of. The first ingredient is milk, with Greek yogurt appearing very low on the list and offering only a negligible amount of protein—four grams against an average of two or three, and matching that of, say, Skinny Cow's. However, it does supposedly contain live and active cultures, but ones and how many is unspecified.
Other claims it makes are that it's "ridiculously creamy" and has "no artificial or high-intensity sweeteners." Neither of these are off-base. The ice cream is neutral with a thick, velvety mouthfeel, with the slightest hint of vanilla amid the light bean specks. Its finish is clean and crisp, but not tangy; there's nothing that screams "yogurt" about this pretty satisfying pick. The wafer is soft, very sticky and quick to melt, dissolving into the mouth as it were merely a method of conveyance rather than a key player. That makes it all the more surprising when it decides to stick around like a gob of peanut butter on the roof of your mouth, gummy and lingering. The best way to get rid of it? Eat some more ice cream! At 100 calories each, it's a caloric steal.
Alden's Organic Round Sammies in Vanilla Bean
New to the Alden's Organic line, this one didn't follow the formula of the Old-Fashioned, which had fewer ingredients but far more pitfalls. Similarly, this uses organic vanilla, and doesn't have any GMOs, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or flavoring, or carrageenan. It's also a lighter brown and freezes considerably harder.
The first bite, even without the visible specks, is indisputably of vanilla bean, with a bright, buttery, flavor that ends in a custardy finish. Its thicker texture adds to that impression as well as to its overall heft, which is substantial. This sandwich has a lot of solid ice cream. An acidic note that's not quite citrusy but something related keeps it from being overwhelming. However, it's the wafer that drags it down. It's a lighter brown, a 4 or 5 on the scale, and is just not very chocolatey, nor thick or pronounced enough to balance out the vanilla. A dry, floury aftertaste kind of erases the sense of cocoa. As a whole, it's fine and enjoyable, but it's definitely a glow-up attempt and, like Whole Foods' 365 Organic, won't scratch the itch for nostalgia.
Skinny Cow Vanilla Gone Wild
A brand that's built an empire on the premise that you can have "indulgent, full-flavored desserts in perfectly reasonable portions," Skinny Cow makes a lot of promises we wondered if they could keep. These round sandwiches also come in no-sugar-added versions, but with a barely perceptible caloric difference and sucralose as the swap-out for corn syrup, it didn't seem worth it to skimp. However, it's interesting to note that at 150 calories for a 64-gram serving, it's not much less than its competitors, all of which float around there. Consider that when you look at the heftier price tag and the satisfaction you'd get from a full-fat ice cream as opposed to their light ice cream swirl.
That said, it does a good job of not feeling like a sacrifice. The slower-melting ice cream has a corn syrupy sweetness that lingers after the cream burst is gone, and emulates the texture of ice cream pretty well despite looking more like a hardened soft-serve a la Carvel's Flying Saucers. There are some ice crystals in it, which you can definitely taste, but that's the price you pay for a lighter formula and greater perceived volume. The chocolate cookie part is reasonably thick with a graham cracker taste and finish that only hints at chocolate mid-hefty chew.
Blue Bunny Simply Vanilla Sandwiches
Another "dairy dessert," this competitor by Wells Enterprises, the largest privately-held, family-owned ice cream treat-makers in the country, took a few different approaches to their sandwiches that worked in their favor. Most square and round ice cream sandwiches lean toward overstuffing, while long rectangular bars are much thinner. But Blue Bunny chose a unique, squatter rectangle shape with a Goldilocks, right-in-the-middle visual impression of one of the whitest fillings. This not-ice-cream with artificial flavorings pleases like ice cream and does it beautifully. It may not have much of a vanilla presence, edging more into sweet cream territory instead, but it's exceptionally fluffy with a gelatinous viscosity that recalls thick soft serve but richer. In other words, it feels very full in your mouth but not full in flavor, which is interesting.
Another bold move for ice cream makers is that they unapologetically put the chocolate wafers in the spotlight rather than centering their dairy. These are slightly speckled with chocolate flecks and gorgeously fudgy in the way dark chocolate brownies are. This flavor gets richer as you chew, turning your sandwich into essentially chocolate ice cream in your mouth, with a long flavor that hugs your tongue. The downside is that it gets extremely soft and sticks like the dickens to the wrapper … but isn't scraping it off with your teeth half the fun?
Fatboy Premium Vanilla
Not to be confused with their seasonal Old-Fashioned Vanilla, which uses a graham cracker wafer, this standby is Casper Ice Cream's most popular product since their establishment in 1925. These thick square babies live up to their brand name, with fluffy white ice cream dispersed to the very edge of thick, supple, simply and sweetly chocolate—not cocoa—wafers.
This ice cream is cream-forward, neutral and cool at first and opening up as the warmth of your mouth unlocks its subtleties. As the bite progresses, there's pleasant clean, white cheese grassiness that blooms into creaminess in your mouth, possibly from the subtle saltiness we detected. The use of salt in sweet treats does double duty in drawing out sweetness on the initial impact but closing the flavor loop like a conductor calling a sharp stop to a layered orchestra. This shortening of the finish makes it possible to crave another bite sooner, which FatBoy certainly does, making it tantalizingly easy for you to become what its brand promises.
Mayfield Creamery Ice Cream Sandwiches
Mayfield Creamery's ice cream sandwiches may not look or cost like the most sophisticated pick of the litter, but by golly does it taste and feel like the recreation of a memory but in sharper, improved focus—like watching an old cartoon digitally remastered for today's TV resolution. This Southern creamery has been making ice cream from their own dairy since 1923, and this hasn't changed since they became part of the Dean Foods dairy conglomerate in 1990.
Note: For those of you from the Northeast, where Mayfield is not typically available, you might recognize this name as the brand that bought Friendly's and put their novelties and ice creams in your supermarket freezers. However, while their Vanilla Super Stuffed—Dean's answer to FatBoy and Klondike—under either brand are identical (sadly, neither were available for this test), the Mayfield sandwiches and Friendwiches maintain their own proprietary recipes and are not interchangeable.
Close your eyes to ignore the almost alarmingly yellow hue of the ice cream in this sandwich, and you'll know with one bite that they hit the nail on the head. In the middle is real ice cream with vanilla-like flavors that are on the softer side in both texture and character. It may not be particularly substantial and melts pretty fast, oozing out the sides, but like Blue Bunny, the chocolate wafer swoops into the limelight to balance the package out. But this one does it a different, opposite way, with structural integrity, chew, thickness, and an overall solidness where its competitor errs chooses a path of literal less resistance. It has a nearly leathery feel that's satisfying to the tooth, and a wee bit of salt in the aftertaste that makes your tongue want more. This wafer provides most of the flavor of the sandwich, and closes with a whiff of holiday spice, like cinnamon or allspice, for even more childhood special occasion vibes.
Klondike Sandwiches, Classic Vanilla
When Klondike took its motto of "Making squares cool since 1922" to task for ice cream sandwiches, who would have thought that this brand, famous for a whole other format of dairy desserts, would take the crown against classic sandwich makers? And even more stunning: They did it with light ice cream, which is not as stripped down as dairy dessert, but still takes off 65% of the fat required to qualify as real ice cream.
In spite of these cuts, this soft, faster-melting ice cream feels much creamier, richer, and fattier than it actually is, surprising several reviewers when they learned it was a light take. As it warms, it turns into a fluff, like the memory—but not texture or flavor—of a marshmallow, sweet but not saccharinely so. This puts it in the back seat and the chocolate wafer in the driver's. it's undoubtedly chocolate-forward, firm when ice cold but airy as it opens up and sticks to your fingers. Thick as it is, initially feels like there's more wafer than ice cream because there's an overhang being that the ice cream is centered, but we found that as it started to melt and ooze, this was helpful to capture the runoff and gives you flexibility to choose how much ice cream you want in each bite.
The top four were a tough call; the more traditional Blue Bunny and Mayfield were neck-and-neck with their more filled square brethren by FatBoy and Klondike. Mayfield beat out Blue Bunny only by having just enough vanilla to avoid losing its identity, as the latter did and tasting more technically like ice cream truck sandwiches … but better. However, Klondike manages to take the top spot by virtue of balanced simplicity, clearly defined flavors and textures, an improved cream-to-chocolate ratio, satisfying heft, and a velvety, taste bud-coating mouthfeel that makes you want to dig in again and again and again.
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