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When you’re little, selecting ice cream in the summer is a big deal. Each year on our day off at camp, I would lean over the sliding door of the freezer case and mull over the choices. I considered each carefully, weighing the pros and cons.
There’s the King Cone, with its crunchy cap of toasted nuts and chocolate shell. Or the Strawberry Shortcake Bar, with its neon-pink crumb coating ideal for many minutes of delicate nibbling. But none can sway me from my favorite: the humble ice cream sandwich.
The ice cream sandwich isn’t the obvious choice. Wrapped in plain paper, it’s not shiny-looking or caramel-coated or candy-studded. It only has two components: a soft chocolate wafer cookie and vanilla ice cream. But the simple combination is perfect; it doesn’t need any bells and whistles.
Some classic packaged foods are impossible to recreate at home: Either you can never exactly replicate the taste or it’s the circumstances that made it taste so good to begin with—in my case, the sticky summer heat, the slap-slap-slap of my bare feet on the wooden sailing dock, the scent of Vermont lake water everywhere.
Happily, you can recreate the exact nostalgic flavor of an ice cream sandwich at home. Here’s the secret: Use cake. Most homemade ice cream sandwiches use chocolate wafer cookies. That’s a delicious method, but it doesn’t capture the soft tackiness of a store-bought ice cream sandwich. The best part of the original treat is how the chocolate part sticks slightly to your fingers as you grab it, and it yields easily to your teeth.
After lots of trial and error, I figured out the ideal solution: Pour a very thin layer of chocolate cake batter into a sheet pan and bake it. Sandwich it with softened vanilla ice cream (a more generic store-bought version works best to recreate that airy, light texture) and then freeze until solid. The thin layer of cake perfectly mimics the traditional soft chocolate cookie. Its exterior is moist and shiny and clings to your fingers as you eat it, the ice cream dripping down your chin.
I’m too old to go to summer camp, but this recipe is the next best thing.
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, for more pronounced chocolate flavor)
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 gallon vanilla ice cream
How do you eat a classic ice cream sandwich? Lick up the melty ice cream edges first, or bite right in? Tell us in the comments!