(WASHINGTON POST) - Few frozen treats are as beloved as the ice cream sandwich. You know the kind: rectangular, wrapped in paper, a simple combination of stick-to-your-fingers chocolate wafers and vanilla ice cream.
But while it is easy enough to grab a box of them at the grocery store, why not try building your own using all the other ready-to-eat components at your fingertips? Do-it-yourself ice cream sandwiches are customisable, not to mention fun and a perfect outlet for culinary creativity.
Take a cue from Mr Brandon Byrd, owner of Washington’s Goodie's Frozen Custard and Treats, which has featured sandwiches made with unexpected components such as Pop-Tarts and MoonPies, rum cake and red velvet doughnuts.
“I like the ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “I like creating things that most people wouldn’t do.”
Want to sandwich Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food between halved Entenmann’s chocolate-frosted doughnuts? Go for it. Or maybe you are feeling like Haagen-Dazs Sweet Cream Coffee Caramel between Pepperidge Farm’s lacy, chocolate sandwich Brussels cookies.
Pastry chef Meredith Tomason, owner of Washington bakery Rare Sweets , suggests a few things to think about as you roam the supermarket aisles. Make sure your cookie and ice cream flavours complement one another and that one does not wash out the other.
“It’s like romance,” she says. “You have to find the right balance.”
She emphasises texture. Will your exterior get too soggy and fall apart? Or will you crack a tooth on the mix-ins of the ice cream?
She also recommends making the sandwiches well in advance - check that your freezer is at its coldest setting.
That way, you can enjoy your party, non-squishy ice cream sandwich in hand. Place them on a small baking sheet and freeze until firm, then wrap them individually in wax paper, label and freeze in airtight containers rather than ziplock bags - this will help the sandwiches retain their shape.
Here are nine flavour combinations to get you started.
1. Chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream
A classic pairing, reminiscent of the childhood favourite Chipwich. I use a cookie from New York's Tate's Bake Shop brand, available at a variety of stores, including Harris Teeter, Fresh Market and Safeway. The buttery, tuilelike rounds make a lovely exterior.
I achieved perfect rounds by slicing very firm pints of ice cream into horizontal slabs - ½ - to ¾ -inch is a good thickness - and punching out circles with a cookie or biscuit cutter (use the scraps in shakes or for snacking). This is much easier with ice cream packed in cardboard cartons that can first be peeled off or cut away.
A slightly messier option: Scoop slightly softened ice cream to press between the cookies.
2. Twinkies with caramel ice cream
There is certainly a novelty factor about the cream-stuffed packaged pastry. You can make the lunch-bag staple more sophisticated by pairing it with a slightly bitter caramel ice cream (I used local Moorenko’s salted caramel with pralines). Get creative with what you dip the softened ice cream edges in - sprinkles, sure, but also try cookie crumbles, mini chocolate chips and/or finely chopped nuts.
Keep the rounded edges of the Twinkies or trim for a rectangular shape. Either way, pre-cutting the ice cream itself would have been tricky here, so I used a small disher to drop three dollops onto the cake, spreading them with an offset spatula.
3. Rice Krispies Treats with chocolate peanut butter ice cream
Combining the small, storebought bricks (original or chocolate varieties) with chocolate peanut butter ice cream makes for an appealing nostalgia trip. Cut them in half horizontally and fill with rectangles of ice cream created by slicing a naked pint vertically into planks.
I liked that these treats firmed up in the freezer, but were still easy to eat.
4. Vanilla pound cake with chocolate ice cream
The cake’s mild-tasting canvas provides another opportunity for showcasing your favourite flavour of ice cream, although you cannot go wrong with a good chocolate ice cream.
Quickly searing the cake in a grill pan firms it up and adds toasty flavor. The cake will not completely harden in the freezer, but the contrast between that and the firmer ice cream makes this a winner. Trim the edges for a neat appearance.
5. Brownies with mint chocolate chip ice cream
In this riff on a classic flavour pairing, I came to appreciate the freezing quality of higher-fat ice cream: Think Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s and those labelled “premium”. The Talenti gelato I used did not freeze as firmly - perhaps because of its lower-fat content. It was not sliceable when I released it from its plastic container.
The best solution was to place a right-sized square cookie cutter directly on the bottom of a brownie cut in half horizontally (mine was from the Harris Teeter bakery). I filled the cutter with gelato, which I levelled with a spoon, then lifted off the cutter, gently pressed on the remaining brownie half and quickly transferred each one to the freezer to set. Trim the sandwiches before wrapping them up.
6. Chocolate-covered graham crackers with s’mores ice cream
Who else has had school lunches packed with Keebler Deluxe Grahams? The s’mores flavour of Ben & Jerry’s makes a natural pairing.
I learnt that small cookies can be tricky to work with, but are perfect for diminutive kid hands and one-bite action. The amount of ice cream that fits here will melt rather quickly - not to mention the chocolate-cookie coating - so it is best to eat these as soon as they are out of cold storage. Also, the fudge chunks in this ice cream made trimming the sandwiches a bit tricky, so it is best to fill them neatly from the start.
7. Sugar cookie with a spiced ice cream
I grabbed sugar cookies from the Safeway bakery and paired them with a pint of cinnamon gelato from local outfit Dolcezza. The relatively plain cookie let the aromatic filling shine.
Again, I used a cookie cutter here to punch out rounds of ice cream. Although freezing the sandwiches in advance is best, you can make this a quick-assembly do-it-yourself treat for your guests by offering them sliced rounds of ice cream that have been frozen overnight on a lined baking sheet.
8. Spiced cookie with lemon filling
Pepperidge Farm’s soft-baked cookies are the ideal size and texture for ice cream sandwiches and the brand’s cinnamon-flavoured snickerdoodle proved a great foil for Dolcezza’s tart lemon sorbet.
Sorbets are particularly refreshing and a great way to satisfy vegan or dairy-free requests. Sorbet melts faster than ice cream, so time will be of the essence in assembling - and eating.
9. Almond cookie with cherry ice cream
The almond pillow cookies from the Fresh Market grocery chain have a cult following because its almond-paste centres stay just as flavoruful when frozen.
Almond and cherry is a beloved and classic flavour combination, of course. Harris Teeter ice cream worked just fine in the centre of these sandwiches, proving that while pricey pints are luscious, you should not necessarily overlook store brands, especially when you are on a budget.
Cannoli Ice Cream Sandwiches
The chocolate dip takes this playful riff on a classic Italian dessert to the next level. For even more texture, roll the edge of the ice cream sandwich that has not been dipped in chocolate in chopped pistachios.
You will need an ice cream maker.
The ice cream base needs to be refrigerated until thoroughly chilled. The ice cream needs to be frozen for at least four hours before it is used to make the sandwiches. The cookie dough needs to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight. The baked cookies need to be frozen for at least one hour before they are used to make the sandwiches. The ice cream sandwiches need to be frozen for at least two hours before the chocolate dip is applied. The dipped sandwiches need to be frozen for at least one hour and up to four days before serving. The dip can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.
(For the ice cream)
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1. For the ice cream: Combine the ricotta, milk, heavy cream, sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
2. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and press parchment paper against the surface of the ice cream. Freeze at least 4 hours or until firm. The yield is about 0.9l.
3. For the cookies: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
4. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed for one to two minutes, until smooth and well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to form a very soft dough. Shape it into a 15cm-long log. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze until firm.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
7. Use a small, sharp knife to cut about twenty-four 0.6cm-thick rounds of dough from the log. Space them at least an inch apart on the baking sheets.
8. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes or until the bottom of the cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for two minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Freeze the cookies for at least one hour before using them to make sandwiches.
9. When ready to assemble, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place it in the freezer. Have ready 12 squares of parchment paper or plastic wrap that are big enough to wrap each ice cream sandwich.
10. Invert half of the cookies on a clean work surface. Top each of them with a small scoop of the ricotta ice cream, then top with another cookie (bottom sides down), gently pressing to form a sandwich and making sure the ice cream filling goes all the way to the edges. Place the sandwiches on the baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze for two hours or until firm.
11. Combine the chocolate and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on low heat in 20-second increments, stirring between each one, until melted and smooth. Cool until just warm.
12. Working with one frozen sandwich at a time, dip half of the sandwich into the melted chocolate, allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl. Return to the same baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and chocolate. Return the sheet of ice cream sandwiches to the freezer and chill for about one hour or until the chocolate has set.
Serve or wrap the sandwiches individually and return to the freezer.