Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

The Ice Cream Sandwich With A Cult Following—& How to Make it Yourself

July 25, 2018

The idea of an ice cream sandwich is preposterous.

Not only cookies, not only ice cream, and not only ice cream accompanied by cookies, but a fused ice cream-and-cookie mass that you can eat three times as fast as if you were to tackle the components on their own.

And when you coat the whole thing in melted chocolate, then refreeze it to create a hard shell... well, it becomes a dessert so unbelievable that it could only come out of California.

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It becomes an It's-It.

That's it: That's an It's-It! Photo by Bobbi Lin

I spent most of my life thinking of It's-Its as the unicorn of the frozen dessert world.

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“It was vanilla ice cream however I easily change it up and use chocolate. Very delicious!”
— BerryBaby
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They belonged to that far-off land where the type of produce that we on the East Coast think of as summer-exclusive is available year-round (tomatoes in December, you hear that!?) and eaten on porches and patios. Where people go surfing after work. Where celebrities walk the streets like you and me! Not real life. A year-round summer camp.

According to the official record, It's-Its were conceived in San Francisco in 1928, when George Whitney pressed vanilla ice cream between two freshly-baked oatmeal cookies, dipped the fat saucer in dark chocolate, and pronounced "It's it!" And so was born an iconic Bay Area dessert, served exclusively at the Playland-by-the-Sea amusement park for four decades.

OK. NOW we're ready to get married.

A photo posted by Kristen Miglore (@miglorious) on

I was lucky enough to catch my first It's-It at Creative Director Kristen Miglore's wedding, where she served them alongside cobbler. (And in case you don't click through the Instagram comments to read guests' enthusiasm, know that someone wrote, "This is gonna be the best wedding ever. That's real strong dessert game right there. ITS IT!!" And they were right.)

Keeping in mind that it might be a long time—years, even—before I was back on the West Coast with an It's-It in hand, I forced myself to choose my flavor carefully, to eat it slowly. (Also motivated by preserving my fancy attire.)

just kidding, chocolate isn't going anywhere...for now 😜 #ITSIT

A video posted by IT'S-IT Ice Cream (@itsiticecream) on

But it turns out that It's-Its have now stretched far beyond the Bay Area. I could have them shipped from the website, but they're also available at multiple grocery stores between the Food52 offices and my apartment, and on FreshDirect, too. I could have one—heck, I could have two!—tonight.

The unicorns roam close to home. (And in Maine, too, where the Harbor Bar—in which chocolate chip cookies flank by ice cream and are coated in chocolate—is a close cousin.)

Our It's-Its have an uncanny resemblance to the originals (pictured below). Photo by Bobbi Lin

Simply Vanilla #ITSIT

A photo posted by IT'S-IT Ice Cream (@itsiticecream) on

But, for the sake of my wallet and my belief in unicorns awe-inspiring desserts, I have taken a vow to do some work for my It's-Its, be it buying a cross-country plane ticket or making them myself.

Because the biggest shame would be for a frozen dessert so spectacular to become mundane. It's-Its just taste better when they're coated in mysticism (chocolate, too).


Another Ice Cream To Love

Here's what you'll need:

  • A batch of Merrill's Crispy Crunchy Oatmeal Cookies: If you want full-sized (that is, gargantuan) It's-Its, make big cookies—I made about 18 cookies, each with about 2 tablespoons of dough; stick the baked cookies in the freezer until they're super-cold before proceeding.
  • Great-quality vanilla ice cream, be it homemade or store-bought (I'd recommend store-bought: It's more likely to be a nice texture right off the bat and it will keep for longer in the freezer); you'll also have an easier time smooshing together the cookies if you let it soften a little at room temperature.
  • 24 ounces of dark chocolate + 3 tablespoons of canola oil (or, make magic shell using coconut oil)

Once all components are ready—and at the right temperature—assembly is easy:

  1. Ready parchment-lined baking sheets.
  2. Flip half your cookies over and plop on a generous amount of slightly-softened vanilla ice cream. (My eyeballed amount was 3 parts ice cream to 1 part cookie, per Cristina Sciarra's suggestion).
  3. Smush the bare cookies on top. Use your hands and/or a spoon to smooth the sides. As I said before, easier with slightly soft ice cream.
  4. Rush the cookie sandwiches to the freezer and leave them be until thoroughly chilled, with re-hardened ice cream—at least 3 or 4 hours, to be safe!
  5. When the cookies are ice-cold, melt the chocolate and canola oil (or coconut oil) in a saucepan over the lowest heat, stirring constantly. Transfer the mixture to a bowl deep enough to swallow most of a sandwich and allow it to reach room temperature. (You can also let it cool off in the pan, but it will lose heat faster in a non-heated vessel.)
  6. Working with one sandwich at a time, dunk the entire thing in the melted chocolate, using a slotted spoon to flip it over so that all sides are coated. Pick the sandwich up with the spoon, allow some excess chocolate to drip off, and then return to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Place the chocolate-coated sandwiches back into the freezer and let the chocolate harden. (I'd say, an hour; some would say as little as 15 minutes—the risk is yours.)
There's an It's-It waiting in the wings. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Do you have a dessert you know you could have anytime you want but that you save for special occasions? Name your "It's-It" in the comments below.

32 Comments

anne August 4, 2017
I've lived in SF for 20 years and never heard of it and have never seen it on a menu.
 
Ginger S. August 6, 2017
Its Its were very popular in the 1970's in the Bay Area. I moved out of the area in the 80's so I am not sure when or if they lost their appeal. To get them, Its Its were typically found in Ice Cream Parlors like Buds Ice Cream which I am not sure if it exists any more. I never saw them on a menu when I lived in the Bay Area.
 
cv July 25, 2018
First of all, It's It is a registered trademark, so you would never find it on a menu unless it was the actual product. <br /><br />It is an ice cream sandwich not something that is typically served in a fine dining environment and would not be on a menu. It's something you generally buy in a grocery store and put in your own freezer like Popsicles.<br /><br />Don't know why you haven't heard of them. They are a legendary Bay Area phenomenon, since 1928 (that's right, ninety years).<br /><br />Moreover, the factory is plainly visible on Highway 101 in Burlingame.
 
cv July 25, 2018
And since it is a registered trademark, a copycat would have to be described as something else on a restaurant menu.<br /><br />Here in the SF Bay Area, a fancy pants resto would probably list it as "Napoleon de glace vanille au chocolat" on the dessert menu and you would pay $18 for it.<br /><br />:o)
 
samanthaalison July 25, 2018
I've lived in SF for 8 months and have probably eaten 50 already. Seemingly available at every corner store! And if you ever drive south on 101 you can't miss seeing the factory.
 
Marylou K. July 22, 2017
Would anyone know how much coconut oil to put in the chocolate?
 
susan July 13, 2017
Am I missing it, or did you mention how to store these? It looks like you've wrapped them in parchment, but that can't be all.
 
TaraT September 12, 2016
Maybe my sandwiches were bigger or maybe i didn't let enough chocolate drip off, but I only *barely* covered 7 of the 9 sandwiches I made.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. September 12, 2016
Oof—sorry to hear that!! I hope you were able to melt a bit more to cover them. I'm guessing that there is some variability/guesswork/margin of error in terms of how big the sandwiches are how thick the coating is. But I do hope they taste very, very good regardless!
 
Steven W. September 4, 2016
I must go tell the folks at the University of Connecticut Dairy Bar to dip their terrific ice cream sandwiches (already famous around here) into chocolate.
 
Meg C. August 1, 2016
It's It's are the best! You can find them in NYC at Greene Grape Provisions in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. No soggyness, only deliciousness. :-)
 
Sophia H. July 31, 2016
I have been eating these since moving back to SF, bay area, nearly 20 years ago. I have never had a limp sight soggy one. <br /><br />We live them and they are very rich, the copy cats look way to big and the committee is at least twice the thickness as a real one, I doubt I could finish one, since many times my husband and I have had to share one on a long walk around the city.<br /><br />Maybe make the cookies much thinner.
 
SpeshulK July 30, 2016
Up here in Canada you could buy an identical Treat in from the ice cream section of the store called "Snack And A Half". They have all since disappeared but they were very yummy!
 
SpeshulK July 30, 2016
Up here in Canada you could buy an identical Treat in from the ice cream section of the store called "Snack And A Half". They have all since disappeared but they were very yummy!
 
Micki B. July 28, 2016
You can get Its-It's in NYC?? I didn't know!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 28, 2016
Yep!! And on FreshDirect. :-o
 
BerryBaby July 28, 2016
I got hooked on these back in the 70's when I lived in San Francisco. Now we can buy them at most groceries store in the PNW. A favorite go-to dessert, that I had a banquet many years ago, Snowballs! A big very rounded scoop of ice cream, covered in chocolate and completely covered with flaked coconut. It was vanilla ice cream however I easily change it up and use chocolate. Very delicious!
 
Ginger S. July 28, 2016
I grew up in the Bay Area and this article brought me down memory lane Thanks for the reminder. I used to get my Its its at Buds Ice Cream. It has been a long time since I have had an It's It, thank you. Now I have to make these.
 
peanut B. July 28, 2016
what? when the texture of the cookie is related to that of the ice cream, it's easier to eat--especially when you're navigating a chocolate coating. then again, i've never had an it's it outside of california. by soggy, do you mean it's actually kinda wet? i would hate to even think about that. why are they doing this??<br /><br />vanilla is classic, but people should know about mint, which is the best if you ask me. then cappuccino. i have given up on chocolate it's its. newer flavors (like strawberry and pumpkin) are sketch. but this article is about making yours at home so i'm sure it'll be great.
 
Risottogirl July 27, 2016
Not limp and soggy. Perhaps you got a bad one?? A good reason to move back to SF from Boston. Love my Its It.
 
cv July 27, 2016
Been getting soggy ones over the past thirty years; I quit buying them about twenty years ago, but still run into them at picnics, tailgates, etc. And I *live* here on the SF Peninsula. <br /><br />Maybe I should buy one at the factory store in Burlingame instead of sourcing from a retail grocer.
 
BerryBaby July 28, 2016
Off the topic, but curious, do they still have the See's Candy outlet in South San Francisco? I loved going there and getting a big bag of 'imperfect' chocolates.
 
cv July 28, 2016
@BerryBaby:<br /><br />Sure looks like it:<br /><br />http://ca.southsanfrancisco.sees.com/chocolate_shops_south-san-francisco_ca_ca_202111.html
 
cv July 27, 2016
Excellent work here, Sarah. As AntoniaJames mentions, the commercial version has rather soggy cookies. Fresh is always better with any preparation that features ice cream.
 
Victoria E. July 27, 2016
My signature dessert is Sock it to me Cake
 
AntoniaJames July 27, 2016
The appeal of the It's It must lie in sentimental attachments - memories and the like -- or in the excitement perhaps of participating in a cult. I for one have never understood the fascination. In each It's It I've ever had, the cookies were limp and soggy -- altogether a deal killer for me. Now, if the homemade ones can overcome that, well, that's a different story. ;o)
 
PHIL July 28, 2016
I agree Antonia, sometimes the memory has more to do with it than the actual taste. I remember when Chipwich ice cream sandwiches came out on the east coast many years ago, all the rage but when you have one it's like , eh. Same thing with white castle hamburgers,
 
BerryBaby July 28, 2016
I buy frozen White Castle burgers and I find them to be pretty darn good! For fun I wrap them up and place them in a white bag to bring back memories of days gone by.
 
PHIL July 28, 2016
Ha Ha! I knew I was going to get heat over that comment. Like Antonia said, I think its the memory more than the taste.
 
Ann-Marie D. July 23, 2017
I remember them being insanely delicious - my university cafeteria in Seattle had them and that's undoubtably how I gained my Freshman 15. They were soft cookies with ice cream inside. And I "recently" a few years ago grabbed one from the Google cafeteria. Still amazing. Everything is a memory - or we wouldn't return. A good cupcake now is still a good cupcake - to the rest of the world they're just small cakes in a different form. <br />
 
Jade E. July 27, 2016
What came first the It's Its or the Cool-A-Coo? I'm a Cool-A-Coo man, myself.
 
Alexandra K. July 27, 2016
Well if I wasn't hungry before....!