There are weeks when we simply must quit with the small talk, when the only thing to do is get down to brass tacks. So let's call this meeting to order, shall we? We've an urgent agenda, one item long: ice cream sandwiches.
Ice cream sandwiches.
If you don't consider yourself ice-cream-sandwich-making material, you can check that misunderstanding right there, at the door. I didn't either, until early June, when I stumbled upon them through laziness and imprecision. I'm not looking back, though. And neither should you.
These particular ice cream sandwiches take as their base very little more than our go-to chocolate chip cookie. It's a very good cookie, a riff on Nancy Silverton's, with a full pound of chocolate, deeply caramelized edge, and a tender center, just-set but still soft. I've probably baked three thousand, maybe six. I ought to have them down cold. Famous lasts.
Back in June, Zoë and I were baking up a batch of said familiars for end-of-year teacher thank-you's. We were shucking and jiving and tipping in sugars, flipping levers, cracking eggs, when everything went sideways. In the blink of an eye, the paddle turning beyond remedy, our ordinary quarter-teaspoon of salt became a full-teaspoon. More correctly, a heaping full-teaspoon, which was in fact rather more like one-and-a-half. Some six times our typical amount.
(To understand how this could possibly happen, you have to understand that I'm a terribly lazy baker. I beat my butter cold, don't pre-mix my dry ingredients, and consider one cup and one teaspoon suitable for all measurements. I rely almost always on the eyeball approach, estimating every amount in between. Yes, yes, that looks rather like half a cup. Mmm-hmm, that could be three-quarters. So when it came time to add the little bits of leavening, I pulled out my trusty, single full teaspoon. In went a dusting of baking powder, followed by a half-spoonful of baking soda. And when I handed the spoon to Zoë and said we'd need "one of those" of salt, she took me at my word. Scooped a heaping teaspoonful, and dumped.
She always was a good listener.)
This all went down, of course, one hour before school let out. For the summer. Wanting to deliver the cookies fresh and warm, I'd waited until the last. Clever, clever me.
With sixty minutes to bake, cool and plate, and a bowl full of nasty, our options were limited. I took a taste, just to test, and nearly winced for the salty sting. Then, I baked them up, anyway. We had neither more butter nor more time. What did we have to lose? Well, besides 20 years of cookie cred.
But here's the thing: they were not awful. In fact, they were almost wonderful. Somehow, in the heat of the oven, the salt mingled and mellowed, until it became an interesting edge. It was no longer the loudmouth, the brassy wrong note, instead harmonizing smartly against all that sweet. If you, like I, love that sweet-salty tango—kettle corn, peanut butter cups, aged sharp cheddar and apple—you know the fine pleasure of this particular dance. (Maybe, the sweet relief of disaster averted, also?)
The cookies went out, as planned, and I resolved to up the salt in future batches to a teaspoon. Not a heaping one—that was just a touch much—but a nice level one. They were that good.
Then we added ice cream. Talk about happy accidents.
That half-inch of cold charming straight-up sweet, well, it changed everything. Made those salt-kissed cookies sing. Vanilla ice cream is such an innocent treat, pure sweet, calmly creamy, solace on a spoon. For the record, I'm not much one for vanilla, always falling for swarthy or seriously zippy. Offer Häagen-Dazs chocolate peanut butter, or Jeni's lime cardamom, and I'll turn-coat on the white stuff quicker than quick. But tucked in between salted chocolate chip cookies? The vanilla, which by rights should be lost in the rich shuffle, does quite the reverse, stands up straight and tall and exquisitely proud. It tastes more like itself, italicized vanilla, the elegant lovely to chocolate's bold kick.
It also, being ice cream, turns the texture dial to crazy. Because freezing these cookies turns them almost candy-like, a good sort of brittle, a snappy match to yielding cream. Can you taste it yet, summon it through the screen? Two crisp, chocolate-pocked, butterscotch discs, bound by the world's best edible glue?
It is August, good people. You know what you need to do.
Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches
Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies (18-24 sandwiches)
I prefer to beat my butter cold, for the firmer texture of the finished dough. That said, if you are using a hand-mixer (or hands), the motor will appreciate ten minutes at room temperature, first.
If making these cookies to eat out of hand (which I highly, highly recommend), reduce kosher salt to 1 teaspoon. If using ordinary table salt, reduce to 1 teaspoon for ice cream sandwiches, 3/4 teaspoon for straight-up munching.
(Edited, 2/6/14: Since 2012, we've made these exclusively with whole wheat flour. We tried it once, and never looked back. My kids won't let me make them any other way. The wheat flour—not white whole wheat, just the standard, straight up, 100% stuff—adds a fantastic nuttiness, and an almost caramelized quality. Feel free to use white, if you wish. But I've adjusted the recipe below to reflect whole wheat.)
2 cubes + 2 tablespoons salted butter, straight from the fridge, sliced 1/4"
1 cup granulated sugar
rounded 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (3/4 cup + 1 packed tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups unbleached, whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups (1 pound) chocolate chips or chunks
good vanilla ice cream, around 1 pint
Place two racks in center positions, and preheat oven to 350°. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and salt on medium speed, until thoroughly combined but not yet fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape sides, add egg, and mix, 30 seconds. Scrape sides, add vanilla, and mix, 30 seconds. Add flour, baking soda and baking powder, and mix on lowest speed, just until combined, 30 seconds. Add chocolate, and mix 10 seconds. Finish incorporating by hand, if needed.
Scoop dough into 1" balls, and arrange them 10 to a tray, staggering them in rows of 3, 2, 3, 2. Flatten each ball slightly with a damp hand, to half an inch in height, then bake for ten minutes. Remove trays from oven, rap sharply against stove or countertop several times to release air, reverse trays (front to back, and top to bottom), and return to oven for another 3-4 minutes. Cookies are finished when gloss is just gone, edges are slightly darkened, and centers are just set. Cookies will continue to bake and firm as they cool. Remove cookies from oven, allow to cool on trays 10-15 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely, 30 minutes or so.
To assemble sandwiches, set ice cream out to soften for 10 minutes. Place a heaping spoonful of ice cream (roughly 1/4 cup) onto one upturned cookie, then top with another. Repeat, as desired. Return filled cookies to freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. Eat immediately, or wrap for freezer storage (wrap pairs of sandwiches in saran wrap, then pack pairs into freezer-grade containers, for long-term storage.) Well-wrapped sandwiches store beautifully for at least one month. As if.