Behind the nostalgic art of ice cream sandwiches, plus 6 to try
Ice cream sandwiches aren’t just for kids these days, nor are they made with so-so vanilla sandwiched between soft-and-soon-soggy rectangles of chocolate cookie. Chicago chefs and shops are offering an intriguing array of ice cream sandwiches that go far beyond what you might expect. One thing, though, hasn’t changed: These ice cream sandwiches are still fun to eat. And they just might make you feel a bit nostalgic.
“It brings back childhood,” said chef Alex Theodorff of Mad Social, when asked why ice cream sandwiches appeal to people. “It brings them back to a time when they were a kid and having fun and carefree.”
Chef Michael Cote of Summer House Santa Monica and Stella Barra restaurants in Lincoln Park agrees that ice cream sandwiches also “evoke a sense of childhood and running around in parks and chasing after the ice cream man and grabbing one out of the little cart he’s got.”
“Ice cream sandwiches have to be one of the best things to have in the summertime,” said Cote.
For Allison Schroeder, pastry chef at Bellemore in the West Loop, an ice cream sandwich fits the more casual vibe of the lunch menu – and there are so many ways to present the sandwich using cookies, cakes, cream puffs and more. She offers a changing roster of ice cream sandwiches.
“I thought it would be fun to try different combinations,” said Schroeder, who noted that while people at lunch may not be looking for an elaborate dessert, they still want something “more” than the usual idea of an ice cream sandwich. Earlier this summer, it was black sesame gluten-free ice cream. Right now it’s strawberry goat’s milk ice cream sandwiched between blondies made with Blond Dulcey chocolate, so-called “caramelized white chocolate.”
Zoe Schor, chef/owner at Split-Rail in West Town, was garnishing ice cream sandwiches with popular kid’s breakfast cereal, like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, earlier in the summer, but now she’s focused on oatmeal.
“We had some oats in-house, and I just wanted to do something with them, to be honest with you,” she said. “I like oatmeal a lot. I like oatmeal cookies a lot. I prefer my oatmeal cookies without raisins in them. So we decided to do a no-raisin oatmeal cookie. And then, because we already had the oats, we thought we’d make the ice cream out of the oats as well.
Sounds simple, but this sandwich takes skill too. The oatmeal ice cream is rich, dense, creamy. The oatmeal cookie is thin but doesn’t crack when the ice cream is spread on it. Consistency is key, Schor said. The cookie can’t be too hard or too soft. Ditto for the ice cream, which she said needs to be “cold, frozen but soft enough so you can work with it.” And you need enough ice cream on the cookie to overhang the edge of the cookie slightly so it can be rolled in house-made crushed potato chips without creating “a big mess. It’s kind of a balancing act.”
At Mad Social in the Near West Side, Theodorff is changing his ice cream sandwich every month and is using current events and seasonal foods as inspiration. June was Pride Month for the LGBTQ community, so Theodorff made a “Superman Gelato Churro Waffle.” He has Lollapalooza and music on his mind for August, so he’s offering a King sandwich (a tribute to Elvis Presley) made with banana ice cream and a peanut butter and jelly swirl. Right now, Theodorff is dishing up a s’mores ice cream sandwich on a deep-fried waffle that is inspired by a camping trip. It’s marshmallow gelato studded with toasted bits of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows and chocolate chips sandwiched between fried waffle pieces that have been dusted with cinnamon sugar and garnished with toasted marshmallows and shards of Hershey’s chocolate.
“When I was a kid, my grandpa used to tell me to put ice cream between two waffles,” he replied. “So, ever since then, I’ve always loved the idea of ice cream sandwiches in a waffle.”
While ice cream sandwiches “have to be one of the best things to have in the summertime,” Cote says they’re a steady item all year-round at Summer House Santa Monica, where the malted chocolate chip cookie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich has been on the menu for five years.
“I would say, absolutely, in the summertime, they’re more popular, but it’s surprising how much people love them on a cold, snowy day too,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s remembering the summertime and being warm, but people love them all year.”