A Spicy Sign of Autumn
Nothing gives me warm feelings of chilly fall nights like thinking about Sweetzels Spiced Wafers.
Growing up, you don’t process food intellectually, you just become accustomed to flavors of your life. You don’t think about what’s local and what’s seasonal and what’s traditional, you’re just happy to chow down on what’s put in front of you, so you absorb the traditions of countless previous generations until it becomes second nature. This is how the Philly region’s take on ginger snaps came to be a personal favorite, and one that is inseparably identified with the coming of autumnal chill.
Why do these simple cookies have such a hold on me? For one thing, they’re really tasty. The Wafers feature the perfect blend of sweetness and spice, evoking everything good about a pumpkin pie. Even better than the flavor is the incomparable texture. Many ginger snaps and spice cookies err too far on the side of chewiness or crispiness, but the Spiced Wafers find the perfect balance — like an al dente pasta cooked by a master chef.
And here’s the best part…if you have a glass of milk handy, you can make something unbelievable. Dunking these cookies is like playing a high-stakes game of chicken. Too long in the drink and they’re mush — breaking up and sinking to the bottom of your cup. Not long enough and it just feels “undercooked.” But if you can find the sweet spot — I’m guessing somewhere around five seconds — you’ll have a melt-in-the-mouth spiced dream.
But perhaps even more than the taste, they signal a season change: their Halloween-colored box comes with a punch-out cardboard mask. I’m working through my first box of the year right now, but a recent get-together with my family got my gears turning. How could I incorporate my new toy — the ice cream maker — with the Spiced Wafers to knock everyone’s socks off for dessert?
My first thought was a take on “cookies and cream” with come crumbled cookies in a vanilla base. But I worried that I could end up in the dreaded “mushy zone,” so I decided to stick with the basic vanilla ice cream and employ the Spiced Wafers as the delivery device. As you can tell from the photo above, we were going to have Sweetzels Ice Cream Sandwiches.
The ice cream was made the night before the party. If you’re not familiar with what comes out of an ice cream maker (at least the one that I use), it’s a texture that I could best describe as denser, heavier whipped cream, so it’s spreadable if you move quickly enough. With the cookies paired up, Mrs. TVFF and I got to work, smearing a generous helping on one cookie and topping it with its mate. A gentle smush and you had something that looked like an over-sized Oreo. It was off to the freezer to harden the ice cream and wait for the next day.
The party was fun (even though the good guys didn’t win the football game) and everyone enjoyed the main course of pulled pork, but the dessert was everyone’s favorite part. I usually don’t like “Chipwich” style deserts because the cookies end up soft and doughy, but the Spiced Wafers held up fantastically in the freezer, retaining nearly all of their crispiness. A perfect blend of creaminess, spiciness and texture.
Regrets? I have only one. The vanilla ice cream wasn’t the most inspired choice. If I had more experience with making different varieties, I should have tried something more daring like pumpkin or even sweet potato ice cream. I still get nervous about adding substantive ingredients to the ice cream mixture because I’m not sure how it impacts the amount of cream and milk. This is definitely an area where I need more experience, and advice in the comments section is welcome!
But I’m probably nitpicking. This was a lot of fun. I was able to take an item that means so much to me and make it into something just a little bit better. All the beauty of tradition with the sense of accomplishment that comes with putting a new spin on an old favorite.