| Maura Judkis |
IF ICE creams could have zodiac signs, cookies and cream would be a Libra – obsessed with balance and equilibrium. If ice creams were countries, cookies and cream would be Switzerland – a neutral zone between chocolate and vanilla. If ice creams could take a Myers-Briggs test, cookies and cream would be an ESFJ: “Warm-hearted, conscientious and cooperative. Want harmony in their environment.”
Black and white, yin and yang: Ice cream is all about balance.
The base has to strike the right note between creamy and icy. The ratio of mix-ins must be just right. That’s why cookies and cream was the perfect test case for our search for a superlative ice cream.
It’s also because, when you eliminate boring old vanilla and chocolate, cookies and cream might be the most popular ice cream flavour in America. In a 2017 survey, the International Dairy Foods Association found that vanilla and chocolate were the top-selling flavours in the United States – followed by cookies and cream in third place.
According to Food 52, cookies and cream is the most-searched-for ice cream flavour in 14 out of 50 states (second place was vanilla). It’s not universal, though. A 2018 YouGov survey put cookies and cream after butter pecan, which, to be honest, we find hard to believe. (What kind of monster likes butter pecan more than cookies and cream?)
Besides, of all the non-chocolate, non-vanilla flavours, cookies and cream – unlike some of the more adventurous concoctions, such as balsamic fig and mascarpone, arbequina olive oil and “matchadoodle” – is the most common across brands, making it the easiest to compare.
We rounded up a panel of seven tasters, which included a couple of experts: One of them wrote an ice cream cookbook. Another one is pregnant.
Rounding out the rest of the group were members of the Food staff and other Washington Post staffers who identified cookies and cream as their favourite flavour.
The taste test was blind, and participants did not know which brands were included.
We bought pints of cookies and cream from nine of the top-selling ice cream brands in America, and threw in a few others that are sold nationally. They were rated on their texture, taste and the ratio of cookies to cream, with a perfect equilibrium earning that ice cream a perfect score. The scores were averaged, and the highest possible score was 20.
And because all good taste tests result in a little drama, we had to disqualify one brand. The Talenti Caramel Cookie Crunch gelato is the brand’s closest rendition of cookies and cream, and though the caramel gave us pause, we figured, what the heck, we’re open-minded. It contained some chocolate cookie bits, but its dominant flavour was caramel, which made it too hard to compare to the others. Our winning flavour was also a nontraditional cookies and cream – in addition to the customary chocolate sandwich cookies, it contains crumbled up chocolate chip cookies – but its flavour profile was more closely aligned with a typical cookies and cream, so it stayed in the competition.
Also on the non-traditional front: We included two low-calorie ice creams. Many of the makers of these types of ice creams say they are just as good as “regular” ice creams. We’ll let the results speak for themselves.
15. Halo Top
Tasters threatened to mutiny when they sampled this low-calorie ice cream. Following the Halo Top instructions, your trusty administrator let the ice cream warm up on the counter for a little while to reach optimal texture. It was no use. Among the complaints: “The texture is off-color and mottled, the flavour is a disaster.” “Skim milk flavour. Painted-on cookie dots.” “This is a crime against ice cream in general. What a waste of ingredients.” “Looked like butter, tasted like freeze-dried barf.” “Tastes like I just licked the boardwalk in Ocean City.” “I have no idea what this is, or why you’ve told me it’s ice cream.” “The person who made this and decided it was fit to serve to humans has probably never tasted cookies and cream before. It’s like an alien took a stab at making something called ‘cookies and cream’ on their first day on Earth.” “Vile.”
Another low-cal brand, Enlightened fared slightly better than its biggest competitor. You would hardly know it from the comments, though: “There’s a very unpleasant artificial flavour in this scoop. It looks attractive, but beneath the visual veneer, it’s not good at all.” “Corn. I taste corn. This should never happen while eating ice cream. Genuinely revolting.” Tasters found it “kind of oily” and “oddly not that flavourful,” with “cookie bits reminiscent of off-brand Oreos (hello, Hydrox!).” It “has an artificial quality to the flavour that’s seriously off-putting,” and may be an elaborate practical joke: “I’m not sure what it was trying to be.” “Yikes. From the moment it hits your mouth, it just gets worse and worse.”
13. Alden’s Organic
This brand is certified organic, but tasters dinged it for its cheap-tasting “cardboard cookie flavour.” One taster was “getting a medicinal vibe from this one, just a funny aftertaste,” and another griped that it was “extremely sugary, even for ice cream” and that “the base verges on grainy.” It was composed of “dry, flavourless cookies and an oddly acidic cream,” said one tester. “A shrug when you’re hoping for a hug.”
12. Van Leeuwen
This fancy New York brand, purchased at our local Whole Foods, did not impress our tasters. They had a few minor issues with the ice cream base – one called it “smooth, but flavourless,” and others thought we were tricking them into eating another low-calorie ice cream (“Tastes kind of fake.” “What is going on with this ice cream?”). But mostly, Van Leeuwen’s premium cookies registered strangely to our tasters. It had “lighter brown flecks that I’m not used to seeing” and “no chunks, just tiny grains.” “When I think cookies and cream, I think Oreo, and this was some other kind of cookie (I think!) that I couldn’t identify.” Correct! The brand uses Michel Cluizel chocolate to bake its own cookies, which are filled with a coconut cream filling. The cookies are very soft, leading one taster to declare: “Not cookies. This is cake. Weird cake.” Another said it had a “thick and creamy ice cream and a more chocolate than cookie flavour in the ‘cookies.’ It doesn’t quite feel like it’s playing by the rules.”
11. Blue Bunny
The classic brand had lots of cookies, but they were in very small granules that one taster said gave it a “dirty” texture.
Its “smattering of chocolaty ‘freckles’” gave it a “kind of ashy grey colour.” Some tasters said the base was “so sweet it tastes like Oreo filling was added to the ice cream,” but others liked that about it – it was “nicely creamy and packs a lot of flavour,” and “felt oddly unctuous at first, but grew on me. The cookies themselves were nicely distributed.” If only they had been bigger. “I’d prefer more big chunks.” “It’s more like cookie crumbs and cream.”
This was one of the richest and creamiest ice creams we sampled – but, similar to Blue Bunny, tasters took issue with the quantity and size of the cookies. The base got high marks for its super creamy – almost cream-cheesy – taste and texture. It was a “really luxurious ice cream, thick and velvety,” and “frothy, airy . . . like licking a cloud.” But some tasters thought it was too much, with a “filmy texture.” Mostly, the problem boiled down to this: “Super creamy and delicious. But the cookie freckles are too few and far between.” “WAY more cream than cookies.” Another did some self-reflection: “I did not care for this. I still ate all of it, but I hate myself.”
Friendly’s was the opposite – a pretty meh base, but great cookies. It had “kind of an odd vanilla, as if the vanilla were created in a lab” and was “a little too sweet for my taste.” It also featured “delicious cookie and not too bad custard. But cloying and waxy – like there are too many gums for stabilizing.” But, good news: “The first sighting of a full cookie fossil.”
8. Whole Foods 365
We’re deeply in the middle of the pack here. “I’d give it a B-,” one taster said of the Whole Foods house brand, which another called “artificial tasting” despite the brand’s commitment to high-quality ingredients. One claimed it had “a peculiar chalky vibe, which is sad, because at first taste, it was classic and yummy.” Another said it “reminded me of a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake. Had a back-of-the-throat sweetness that lingered.” It has a “good amount of big pieces of cookie as fun hidden surprises” and is “a little dense, but largely inoffensive.” “It is neither good nor bad. The cookie is generic. The cream is sweet and lifeless. Maybe good for a picky eater?”
Score: 12 (Note: This brand is also called Dreyer’s in some parts of the country.)
Another middling choice, by comparison. Tasters called it “bland and forgettable.” They “would have liked more cookies, but this one did a passable job.” They also would have liked better cookies:
“This cookie is a nasty, in-flight cookie . . . the ice cream itself is adequate, but yikes, this cookie.” Some said it had a “nice tasting base, nicely smooth to the tongue.” Another note said “it felt more like it was quoting cookies and cream than embodying it.” In summary: “a decent amount of chocolate, so it can be tasted in most bites, and the cream/sugar ratio in the ice cream is in better shape. Not the best ever, but good.”
This classic brand scored points for being charmingly ordinary. It had “super creamy, large, prominent chunks of fudge with an almost cookie-dough-like texture. This doesn’t seem ‘gourmet’ to me, but I bet it’s a crowd pleaser.” It was “not too sweet, which I appreciate,” with “excellent sized chunks of cookie.” One taster felt it had a “strong c-to-c ratio, but the ice cream is too crystallised.” It was “reasonably satisfying, not mind-blowing. But sometimes you don’t need your mind blown. You just want a sitcom, not prestige TV.”
4. (tie): Breyers
Both of these brands scored high for the quantity and quality of their cookies. Breyers, which touts its use of real Oreos, had a “bland base, but great cookie distribution . . . best ratio of cookies to cream,” and an “excellent cream texture and just the right amount of cookies.” Its “ratio is on the nose with varied cookie piece sizes.” If the base were slightly better, it might have pulled ahead of Blue Bell. “The flavour fades kind of like a stale marshmallow, and then the roof of your mouth retains this slick film,” said one taster, and another said it “hangs around in your throat” and has a “generic dirty slush color.” But the Oreos made up for that. “Great distribution of cookies. Compulsively consumable.”
Not a lot of complaints here: It has “incredibly dense chocolate chunks and an impressive cookie-to-cream ratio.” “The cream was solid and the cookies themselves seemed almost like real Oreos.” And “the base is pretty good.” “These cookies come with some creme filling, which adds another level of flavour (though it also seems to freeze harder than the ice cream). LOTS of cookies.”
3. Turkey Hill
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, brand hit the sweet spot for our tasters and scored the highest of any ice cream that comes in a size larger than a quart. “I can’t tell you why I enjoy this one. It’s very simple, the cream isn’t too sugar-sweet, the ratio of cookie is good – it seems like nostalgia for elementary school picnics in a park.” “It does the job on the cookie, creamy and textural fronts” and is “just a tasty, solid ice cream” with “a fine distribution of cookies to cream.”
“It was like a hidden treasure of cookies, which I greatly enjoyed. At first, it seemed like there were only smaller pieces – but then you would find a GIANT one.” Its texture was very pleasing,” with a “fluffy, marshmallow-like texture and taste to the cream.”
Haagen-Dazs proves once again why it has become one of the greats. It is “creamy and smooth and what ice cream should be. The cookie chunks are big and beautiful,” with a “solid ratio and texture and taste.” Tasters said it had “surprisingly luxurious cream with chunks of cookie that crumbled nicely on the palate.” It was “sweet and light. Would love on a dead-hot July evening.”
1. Ben & Jerry’s
Our winner, Ben & Jerry’s, is the aforementioned non-traditional cookies and cream – it has chocolate chip cookies in it, too – but tasters found it still true enough to the original, and said the other cookies were an enhancement. “There’s something deep and caramely about this one. I like the cookie bites as well as what seems like Nilla Wafers that snuck in.
Either way, it’s tasty!” “So many cookies! . . . Some people probably can’t handle this number of cookies, but I felt it really brought this flavour to the next level. Also, the cookie swirl was aesthetically pleasing.”
It had “visible bits of light brown cookie within the taste of more traditional cookie dough ice cream. It left me confused but not unhappy.” And it all added up to “a very satisfying package. It is a little over the top to be a true cookies and cream, but this doesn’t feel like the kitchen sink.” – Text & Photos by The Washington Post