The other night I was craving an ice-cream sandwich. Not just any ice-cream sandwich, mind you, I was craving a Big Wheel. As I walked home from work, I stopped at my local 7-11 and went straight to the freezer section. There were numerous pints of the usual brands of ice cream and some popsicles but no Big Wheels. I asked the guy working where they were. He gave me a blank look. “Don’t you have Big Wheels?” I asked. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. Dejected, I left the store empty handed.
When I got home, I did some noodling around on the Internet and discovered that the Texas-based 7-11 stopped making Big Wheels about 12 years ago. Sadly, it was a quiet death, with nary an obituary or tribute to be found. And that’s a pity because they were the best store-bought ice-cream sandwich ever. What was 7-11 thinking?
Does anyone else remember Big Wheels? No, I’m not talking about the red and yellow plastic tricycle—though when I was little I had one of those, too. These Big Wheels were comprised of a thick patty of creamy ice cream in flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip or mint-chocolate chip, nestled between two large round and rich chocolate cookies—so huge it took two hands to hold them. They were an exclusive item at 7-11 and my friends and I would ride our bikes (no, not our Big Wheels, as we had outgrown them) there almost every day in the summer to grab one. Plus there was a period when my parents kept a steady stash in the freezer, always available for when I had a craving. Like most ice-cream sandwiches, when it was too warm they could turn into a mess as the ice cream melted and the cookies softened, but you just didn’t care if part of it dribbled down your chin because they tasted so good.
Most other commercial ice-cream cookies have never pleased me, especially those rectangular ones—the cookie is too spongy and the ice cream is usually just an insipid, joyless concoction. And while Big Wheels didn’t have a lock on the round format, their sheer size and the superiority of their chocolate cookie placed them in a class all unto themselves.
Apparently, last week was ice-cream sandwich day (does any food not have a day?) so I reckon something was in the ether prompting my desire. And since you can no longer buy Big Wheels, I figured I’d try and make them myself. I baked a batch of soft, chocolate cookies (and, embarrassingly, used parchment paper on my cookie sheet for the very first time—yes, I’m a bit slow to change, but why, why did I wait so long to embrace this amazing tool?) and chucking tradition, I decided to make peanut-butter ice cream instead of the usual flavors. After freezing the sandwiches for an hour or so, I took a bite, and oh my, I was back in time, riding my bike with my friends on a quest for a frozen treat to counter the humid Houston heat.
I’ve always enjoyed the combination of peanut butter and chocolate and frozen peanut-butter cups are one of my favorite sweet snacks. These ice-cream sandwiches took that pleasure one step further, as the soft cookies and the cool ice cream were luscious and smooth—so satisfying on a steamy day. Plus, I had added a dash of cayenne to my peanut-butter ice cream, and its piquancy played well with the chocolate and nutty flavors.
So while we no longer have Big Wheels (shame on 7-11 for discontinuing them!) these ice-cream sandwiches are an excellent replacement. Heck, it’s been so long since I’ve had a Big Wheel, I honestly can’t remember quite what they tasted like, so I dare say these are even better!
Ingredients for the chocolate cookies
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
Ingredients for the peanut butter ice cream:
1 cup of natural, unsweetened peanut butter (can use chunky or smooth depending on your preference)
3/4 cups of sugar
3 cups of heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
To make the cookies, in a double boiler, melt the unsweetened chocolate. Cream the soft butter and sugars until fluffy. Add to butter the beaten egg, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix well.
Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder then add to the butter and egg. Mix well, then stir in the melted unsweetened chocolate. Cool dough in refrigerator for half an hour or longer.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and scoop out a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes. (After taking sheet out of the oven, you can press down on hot cookies with a glass or spatula to flatten a bit.) Cool on sheet. Repeat for rest of the dough.
Meanwhile, to make the ice cream, heat the peanut butter and sugar together on medium until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.
Whisk together peanut butter and sugar with cream, vanilla, and cayenne until smooth. Refrigerate for an hour or until chilled. Freeze and churn according to your ice-cream maker’s instructions.
To make the sandwiches, chill cookies and ice cream in freezer for about an hour.
Take out and place one scoop of ice cream between two cookies, and either eat immediately or return to the freezer (either individually wrapped or several laid flat in a plastic container). As long as they’re well wrapped, can keep in the freezer for at least a week.
Yield: 24 sandwiches
Note: While I was waxing nostalgic about Big Wheels, I decided to make these a bit smaller because I don’t have quite the metabolism I did when I was young. That said, you could make the cookies as large as you like.