May 11, 2017
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The Hawaiian Roll Was Made for Ice Cream
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Ice cream sandwiches on bread might be the best thing since, well, sliced bread. Or so we found in our at-home test.

The cookie is a flawed vessel for the ice cream sandwich—it always has been. In the best-case scenario, you’ve scooped your ice cream between two warm, soft cookies that you can easily bite through—but ice cream will melt quickly when paired with a warm cookie, dripping out the sides. More likely, though, your cookies are room temperature and somewhat stiff, a stiffness that’s only increased by a cold scoop of ice cream, so you struggle to bite through your sandwich and clean up the ice cream that is squeezed out the sides as the two cookies are pressed ever closer together. By the last few bites, you’re holding two cold, hard cookie chunks—sticky and soggy with a few drops of ice cream. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve felt disappointed by an ice cream sandwich, I could buy…two pints of Van Leeuwen ice cream.

There’s a better way! And outside of the United States, they’ve figured it out. In Southern Italy, where cookies are invariably small, dry, and crumbly, residents have adapted by scooping their gelato onto soft, spongy brioche rolls and never looking back. In Singapore, where street foods are plentiful, hawkers serve a treat called ice cream loti—small scoops of ice cream folded into a slice of sweet rainbow bread that preceded the whole unicorn food trend. In Thailand, ice cream is frequently served in a squishy hot dog bun, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and crushed peanuts.

Here in the States, we’re slowly catching onto the superiority of ice cream sandwiches on bread, but they’re not easy to find. Brooks Headley has a recipe in his book, Fancy Desserts, for a simple ice cream sandwich on grilled white bread. At OddFellows, a chain of ice cream shops in New York, you can buy an “Odd Pocket”: ice cream and assorted toppings scooped into a brioche bun that’s pressed and sealed in a special iron for 15 seconds, then cut in half. At Lucy’s Lab Creamery in Honolulu, a similar pocket is created in a press, but using a King’s Hawaiian roll.

Once I learned that this was a thing, I kept imagining the satisfying squish of the bite, the savory note of the bread that would counterbalance the sweetness of the ice cream the way a cookie never could. When I described them to people around me, they would invariably respond with confusion, disinterest, and sometimes even disgust. In the interest of research, I sat down with a few friends to try the best ice cream and bread combinations we could think of and see how they compared to the traditional cookie sandwiches we’d all tried before.

THE TASTE TEST

Challah roll with coffee ice cream
I was excited to try challah bread with coffee ice cream, because it sounds like the ideal version of an ice cream breakfast. But without the eggy custard that’s poured over it for French toast, challah was too thick and dense and dry to make a pleasing ice cream sandwich.

Pumpernickel with matcha ice cream
I had hopes for pumpernickel bread, too, because of its dark, dramatic appearance and slightly savory flavor, but the taste was too overpowering, and it took away from my enjoyment of the matcha ice cream we paired it with.

Brioche rolls with chocolate ice cream
Brioche rolls with chocolate ice cream were perfectly pleasant, and I’d gladly eat them again, but they didn’t offer anything particularly interesting.

Cinnamon sugar toast with strawberry ice cream
An unexpected crowd-pleaser was strawberry ice cream on buttered white toast sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The tangy fruitiness of the strawberry ice cream stood out against the sweet, buttery bread, and the simplicity of sliced white bread was actually an excellent texture for an ice cream sandwich.

THE WINNERS

Hawaiian roll with mango ice cream and sprinkles
One of the favorites that stood out was mango ice cream on a tiny, sweet Hawaiian roll dipped in rainbow sprinkles. The Hawaiian roll was light and fluffy, and its mild sweetness went perfectly with creamy mango ice cream. (I think it would be equally good with other tropical or creamy flavors, like vanilla, strawberry, or passionfruit.)

Dark chocolate ice cream on toasted sourdough with flaky salt
Another hit was dark chocolate ice cream on thick sourdough grilled in butter and sprinkled with flaky salt. The richness of the chocolate ice cream paired perfectly with sprinkled salt and grilled butter, and it was offset by the slightly sour taste of the bread. The sturdy, spongy texture of the sourdough was ideal because it could easily soak up any melting ice cream without compromising flavor or falling apart.

The excellence of these two ice cream sandwiches, which were so different from each other in both flavor and texture, were all the proof I needed of the superiority of bread as an ice cream sandwich ingredient. The problem of messiness wasn’t completely solved by replacing cookies with bread—I’d recommend putting your ice cream sandwiches in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up if you’re serving them to a group, or if it’s a particularly warm day. But bread is cheap and plentiful, and a lot easier to keep around than fresh cookies—and how impressed will your friends be this summer when you whip out a serving platter of freshly assembled ice cream sandwiches? Roll them in your favorite toppings (crushed cookies, sprinkles, toasted coconut, and slivered almonds are all good options) or sprinkle with flaky salt. No waiting in line necessary.

Ingredients

  • 1 King’s Hawaiian dinner roll, sliced in half
  • 1 scoop of mango ice cream
  • toasted shredded coconut or rainbow sprinkles

In this easy alternative to the classic ice cream sandwich, a soft Hawaiian roll takes the place of cookies. We loved the way the subtly sweet, light and fluffy bread tasted with the creamy, tangy mango ice cream, but it would probably be equally good with other fruity or creamy flavors, like vanilla, strawberry, or passion fruit.

  1. Place a large, round scoop of ice cream on the bottom half of the roll, then slowly press the top onto it so that the ice cream comes out just to the edges of the bread. Roll the sides of the sandwich in coconut or sprinkles for a crunchy, attractive finish.

Ingredients

  • 2 thick slices of good sourdough
  • 1 scoop of your favorite dark chocolate ice cream
  • unsalted butter or olive oil
  • flaky sea salt

In this ice cream sandwich, sourdough is toasted in butter and used as the vessel for a scoop of rich, dark chocolate ice cream. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt rounds out the sweetness of the ice cream and adds a savory crunch.

  1. Heat a couple tablespoons of butter or olive oil over medium heat in a pan, and grill your bread on one side in it until it’s lightly browned.
  2. Sprinkle salt on the buttered sides and let cool for a few minutes, then scoop and flatten a generous portion of ice cream onto the untoasted side of one slice—aim for an amount of ice cream that’s about as thick as the bread slice in order to get the perfect proportion. Eat immediately or firm up for a few minutes in the freezer.

Amelia Ayrelan Iuvino

Amelia Ayrelan Iuvino is a writer and editor living in New York. She covers culture, gender, and books, and sometimes, when she is hungry, she writes about food.

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