Wednesday, November 2, 2011
TBG Eats: Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!" vs. Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake
Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.
My mom has been in my thoughts a lot lately. She turns 60 next month and I'm at that familial fork-in-the-road where I'm now sharing her with her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Bootleg and her grandson, Jalen. Around Stately Bootleg Manor, my mother has ascended to "grandma" status. It's what we all call her – with Jalen unleashing the appellation in concentrated interrogative bursts ("IsGrandmaHere? IsGrandmaHere? IsGrandmaHere?") any time she's scheduled to visit.
The recent memories of my mother are mostly those that involve my son. Two weeks ago she came down to see Jalen play baseball. As most of you know, Jalen plays the game with a certain level of freneticism that usually ensures a relatively early bedtime once his heart rate returns to normal and his eye-black-enhanced, at-bat scowl morphs back into a seven-year-old's soft countenance.
That evening, my wife and I went to the movies and stopped for drinks and a late dinner, afterwards. We got home just after 11:00 PM and discovered Jalen – wide awake – watching DVR'd cartoons on the upstairs television. Approximately six of the two dozen chocolate chip cookies my mother had baked remained on the kitchen counter and when I pressed them for additional information on the confectionary whereabouts, both my son and my mother – in strict adherence with black America's "stop snitching" philosophy – pled mutual ignorance.
I was reminded of my mother again when the Baskin-Robbins ice cream chain recently brought back their German Chocolate Cake flavor. It's a seasonal release that usually appears in September/October. But, when I was a morbidly-obese pre-teen living up in Long Beach, my local Baskin-Robbins only sold it in November. I remember this because on Sundays my mother would go to the supermarket and shop for the rest of the week. I would often go with her so that I could select an appropriate cereal based solely on the quality of the prize inside (YAY! – Officially licensed superhero trinkets or baseball cards. BOO! – Terrariums or other educational knick-knacks.) Afterwards, we'd stop at the Baskin-Robbins on 4th and Cherry for a cone.
Back in the mid-1980s, "cookies and cream" ice cream had taken the nation by storm. If you're too young to remember; you'll just have to trust me when I say it put the "chocolate chip cookie dough" ice cream craze from the following decade to shame. Cookies and cream was my go-to scoop from 1984 through 1986 and I never strayed. Oh, sure, I'd ask for a teeny pink plastic-spooned sample of other flavors, but that's not "edible adultery". It was more like an "edible booty call" with my ice cream wife's closest friends and co-workers. Harmless. Victimless. Delicious. But, I always came back to the one I loved.
Until I tasted German Chocolate Cake ice cream.
It was obvious that I'd rushed into my first ice cream commitment with cookies and cream. I pulled the ripcord on that relationship and 25 years later, I've never looked back. Yes, I experimented with frozen yogurt just like everyone else in the 1980s. I can say I've purchased my share of pints from Ben & Jerry's -- with their Oatmeal Cookie Chunk coming this close to being christened my third ice cream wife. But, I am nothing if not loyal to...wait, what? Ben & Jerry's recently introduced their take on German Chocolate Cake ice cream?! Good thing I didn't finish that "...nothing if not loyal..." sentence, eh?
Ben & Jerry's version is called "Fair Goodness Cake!". (Do I really have to make the obligatory reference to The Simpsons here? Fine. [Inhale.] And, like the Be Sharps, the name is witty at first, but seems less funny each time you hear it. Happy?!) It's described as "chocolate ice cream with German Chocolate Cake pieces and a coconut caramel swirl".
Before we continue, I suppose I should call attention to the ironic elephant in the room. I'm really not a fan of plain chocolate ice cream. If it were ever put to a vote, chocolate would finish fourth in my personal Neapolitan district. To me, most chocolate ice creams have an underlying bitterness that flies in the face of everything ice cream should be. Y'know...sweet.
Unfortunately, "Fair Goodness Cake!" stumbles out of the first-taste gate with a pronounced absence of sweetness. The caramel tries its best to balance everything out, but that leads into my second issue: there's not enough "everything else". Ben & Jerry's is synonymous with plenty of toppings IN the ice cream, but here, the coconut caramel swirl is, relatively speaking, a thin wisp. Each spoonful produces a mildly sweet finish, but before the next bite, the bitterness returns to bombard your taste buds. And, the chocolate cake pieces are left as an obvious redundancy, failing as a flavor accompaniment/contrast or textural lift.
Admittedly, it's inherently unfair to compare the look of a hand-packed pint with one that's prepackaged, but LOOK at how much better Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake ice cream LOOKS!
That's ooey-gooey caramel on top and it's spooled throughout, pooling beneath the surface every few centimeters. The chocolate ice cream has more of a milk chocolate quality -- rich, decadent and filled with guilt. But, my favorite part(s) just might be "everything else". Baskin-Robbins lifts Ben & Jerry's gimmick by blending in lots of walnuts and chocolate chunks. The walnuts cut some of the sweetness from the ice cream and caramel while their texture on the tongue is terrific. The chewy chocolate chunks are a wee bit bitter, but work as a background ingredient and lend some complexity.
Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!" has been promoted as a "limited batch", but it's been well-stocked in my local supermarkets for months. As the "plan B" to my all-time favorite ice cream, it's an acceptable substitute when Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake isn't available. Thankfully, my wife came home with a $13.99 three-ton tub from Baskin-Robbins earlier this week.
I'm good until Veterans' Day.
Grade (Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake): 500 (out of 5)
Grade (Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!"): 2.5 (out of 5)