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.

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  • BS September 25, 2009  

    I love your description of dunking cookies as “like playing a high-stakes game of chicken.” Oh how many times have a lost half a cookie because I pushed the dunking time just one second too far?? But also, why have I never tried these spicy cookies? Why are they only available in Philly?

  • TVFF September 25, 2009  


    Apparently it’s a Philly thing. Sweetzels is located in Skippack, PA, which is north-west of Philly. They’re not a big company from what I can tell, so their distribution area must not be that large. While they make other products, it looks like the Spiced Wafers may have a wider availability seasonally, so keep your eyes open in stores. Or when you pass through the Delaware Valley, of course.

    The funny thing is that, as a kid, I didn’t know they were regional…I just figured they were the same as any other cookie, like Nabisco. When I mentioned them casually to Mrs. TVFF, who comes from way up in the northern corner of New Jersey (near NYC), she had no idea what I was talking about, so that was the first time I even realized they weren’t a national brand.

  • Don September 25, 2009  

    Mike: I thought the vanilla ice cream was the perfect choice – a neutral enhancement that brought a nice creaminess to the wafers. This is why we like them with milk – creaminess without fighting the spiciness. They were delicious!
    Note to “B.S.”:
    Sweetzels are made in Skippack, PA – about 25 miles N/W of center-city Philadelphia. As far as availability, here is a quote from their web site that may be of help locating them: “Sweetzels Spiced Wafers has grown steadily and is now among the top 5 cookie items on a seasonal basis. They are now on the Fall and Winter shelves of outstanding supermarket companies including A&P, Shoprite, Redners, Clemens, Wal-Mart, and many large independent outlets such as Shady Maple. Each year the growth continues outward, now into the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard.“

  • gansie September 25, 2009  

    possible contention surrounding cookie texture:

    so the reason i like the softness in the chipwich cookies and ice cream sandwiches is that when i take a bite, the ice cream in the middle doesnt go flying out everywhere. but when an ice cream sandwich like that has too crisp of a cookie, then the middle part spreads out all over and is no longer fun, easy, clean to eat.

  • tvff September 27, 2009  


    I hear you…the last thing you want is to be chasing shards of cookie and globs of ice cream around the room, but it was more “crunchy” than “crispy” and the sandwiches were fresh out of the freezer, so the insides weren’t too squishy. No muss, no fuss!

  • Harmony September 29, 2009  

    I do not have an ice cream maker of my own, but many friends who do have them swear by the Ben and Jerry’s Cookbook. Even a notoriously ‘who needs a recipe when I can just wing it’ friend says she loves it for inspiration.

  • Louie September 30, 2010  

    Since we are out of Philly area we ordered online from aruntx.com and got the Sweetzels delivered to our home. Our family loves Sweetzels and ice cream and Sweetzels sounds like a great idea.

  • Cara York April 30, 2011  

    These are the greatest cookies. I live in Colorado (originally from Pa.) and miss them immensely! My climate is dry so they last a very long time. I also like to have them on hand because, they are very soothing when someone has an upset stomach. Ginger is known to have a healing effect. They are also the best dunking cookies, especially in tea. I wish I could get them all year long.
    Thank you for a great long lasting childhood treat and memory.

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