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Make the ice cream sandwich of your dreams

By Becky Krystal

The 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’s 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?

DIY ice cream sandwiches are customizable, not to mention fun and a perfect outlet for culinary creativity.

Take a cue from Brandon Byrd, owner of Washington’s Goodie’s Frozen Custard and Treats, which has featured sandwiches made with such unexpected components 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’re feeling like Häagen-Dazs Sweet Cream Coffee Caramel between Pepperidge Farm’s lacy, chocolate sandwich Brussels cookies. We’re not judging you. In fact, we’re applauding you.

Pastry chef Meredith Tomason, owner of Washington bakery RareSweets, suggests a few things to think about as you roam the supermarket aisles. Make sure your cookie and ice cream flavors complement each other and that one doesn’t wash out the other.

“It’s like romance,” she says. “You have to find the right balance.”

She emphasizes 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!). After playing around with our own creations, we agree.

That way you can enjoy your party, too, 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 zip-top bags; this will help the sandwiches retain their shape.

Here are nine flavor combinations to get you started, along with lessons we learned.

Chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream

A classic pairing, reminiscent of the childhood favorite Chipwich. Based on Tomason’s advice, we used a cookie from New York’s Tate’s Bake Shop brand, available at a variety of stores, including Harris Teeter. The buttery, tuilelike rounds make a lovely exterior.

We achieved perfect rounds by slicing very firm pints of ice cream into horizontal slabs — 1/2- to 3/4-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.

Twinkies with caramel ice cream

The cream-stuffed packaged pastry is a favorite of Byrd’s. There’s certainly a novelty factor there, and you can make the lunch-bag staple more sophisticated by pairing it with a slightly bitter caramel ice cream. 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 we used a small disher to drop three dollops onto the cake, spreading them with an offset spatula.

Rice Krispies Treats with chocolate peanut butter ice cream

Combining the small, store-bought 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.

We liked that these treats firmed up in the freezer but were still easy to eat.

Vanilla pound cake with chocolate ice cream

The cake’s mild-tasting canvas provides another opportunity for showcasing your favorite flavor of ice cream, though you can’t 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.

Brownies with mint chocolate chip ice cream

In this riff on a classic flavor pairing, we came to appreciate the freezing quality of higher-fat ice cream: Think Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s and those labeled “premium.” The Talenti gelato we used did not freeze as firmly — perhaps because of its lower-fat content.

Our best solution was to place a right-size square cookie cutter directly on the bottom of a brownie cut in half horizontally (ours were from the Harris Teeter bakery). We filled the cutter with gelato, which we leveled 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.

Chocolate-covered graham crackers with s’mores ice cream

Who else has had school lunches packed with Keebler Deluxe Grahams? The s’mores flavor of Ben & Jerry’s makes a natural pairing.

We learned 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’s best to eat these as soon as they’re out of cold storage. Also, the fudge chunks in this ice cream made trimming the sandwiches a bit tricky, so it’s best to fill them neatly from the start.

Sugar cookie with a spiced ice cream

We grabbed sugar cookies from the bakery and paired them with a pint of cinnamon gelato. The relatively plain cookie let the aromatic filling shine.

Again, we 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 DIY treat for your guests by offering them sliced rounds of ice cream that have been frozen overnight on a lined baking sheet.

Spiced cookie with lemon filling

We took Tomason’s advice in this flavor pairing. Pepperidge Farm’s soft-baked cookies are the ideal size and texture for ice cream sandwiches, and the brand’s cinnamony snickerdoodle proved a great foil for 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.

Almond cookie with cherry ice cream

The almond pillow cookies from the Fresh Market grocery chain have a cult following, and we know why: their almond-paste centers, which stay just as flavorful when frozen.

Almond and cherry is a beloved and classic flavor combination, of course. Harris Teeter ice cream worked just fine in the center of these sandwiches, proving that while pricey pints are luscious, you shouldn’t necessarily overlook half-gallon, scoopable store brands, especially when you’re on a budget.

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