Published July 23, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.
We sampled nine versions of this classic summertime dessert.
In its most basic form, an ice-cream sandwich is simply a slice of vanilla ice cream between two layers of soft chocolate wafer. We found nine different versions of ice-cream sandwiches at our local supermarkets, including a few low-fat varieties, an organic one, and even a lactose-free brand. We asked our test kitchen tasters to tell us which of the nine they liked best.
We first asked tasters to consider the ice cream. Five of our ice-cream sandwiches were all made with full-fat vanilla ice cream, while three brands were made with low-fat ice cream. One was made from soy protein. Could tasters tell the difference? Absolutely.
The cake component was just as important. Tasters wanted wafers that were soft and chewy, with a deep chocolate flavor.
Not surprisingly, tasters liked the sandwiches made with full-fat ice cream best. The overall winner contained the most fat in our tasting. Tasters liked its rich, creamy, silky, soft-serve-style ice cream, which was complemented by the “distinct chocolate taste” and chewy texture of the wafer.
The runner-up, also a full-fat contender, pleased tasters with its creaminess and clean vanilla flavor. Most found the wafer chewy, sweet, and chocolaty. Even the leanest of the nondiet sandwiches earned fans; most tasters liked the creamy texture of the ice cream and the brownielike flavor of the wafer.
The low-fat ice-cream sandwiches were unilaterally rejected by tasters. Most complaints involved the thin, watery ice creams and the bland, “artificial” taste of both ice cream and wafer. But the dairy-free sample fared the worst—tasters thought the soy-based ice cream tasted artificial, “funky,” and old.
While conducting our ice cream taste tests during a particularly hot week in Boston, we were struck with the idea for an additional test. We took all our sandwiches outside and observed how well they held up in challenging ice-cream-eating weather—a humid 86-degree day.
The low-fat sandwiches melted first, all of them morphing into watery, dripping messes within the first two and a half minutes. The regular ice creams fared a little better—fat is a natural stabilizer—but most began softening after a few minutes. An organic brand was the ultimate winner. After 10 minutes in the heat, the ice cream slice was intact and we were still able to hold the sandwich comfortably, prompting one tester to ask, “Is that even ice cream?”
Our conclusion? While some light foods have a place in our calorie-conscious culture, we’d rather enjoy ice-cream sandwiches in their full-fat glory.