A touch of creativity turns ice cream into a dessert-menu star.
Customers at North, an upscale grill concept with locations in Tucson and Scottsdale, Ariz., can dine sensibly on grilled fish, meats and vegetables. After such meals they naturally leave room for something sweet, and Chef Christopher Christiano’s dessert menu lets them indulge.
At any given time, the menu offers a praline basket filled with brandied Bing cherries, Georgia peaches and pistachio-butternut gelato ($8); chocolate truffles of dark-chocolate ice cream rolled in dark chocolate and coated with candied walnuts ($7); or candied-ginger shortbread layered with white-peach gelato and blackberry compote ($8).
The common element? Ice cream, a dessert staple with universal appeal and proven power to satisfy, especially during summer. “When all else fails, there’s ice cream,” Christiano says. “It stems from childhood—it’s what you were rewarded with.”
|Ice creamís appeal bridges the simple, such as Houlihanís Ice Cream Dome (top), to the elegance of Pacific Eastís baked Alaska (above).
Chefs across the country agree with Christiano that for dessert, there’s nothing quite like ice cream. Sure, the creamy, sweet treat does well on its own with a simple garnish or crown of chocolate sauce. But in the hands of creative chefs, ice cream turns into classic profiteroles and parfaits; baked Alaska and other retro desserts; and sophisticated versions of ice cream cakes and sandwiches sure to transport customers back to their childhoods.
New spins on old favorites
A love affair with tupelo honey from a small beekeeper in the Florida Panhandle inspired Marian Getz, pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck Café in Orlando, Fla., to create a tupelo-honey parfait. “Somebody gave me a jar of the honey and when I tasted it, everything stopped,” says Getz, describing its taste as “hauntingly beautiful.”
She layers house-made honey-flavored gelato with crumbles of honey-sweetened macadamia brittle, tops the parfait with a spun-honey halo and whipped cream, and finishes the plate with a drizzle of honey. “I love to walk this dessert out and ask customers to just taste the honey,” Getz says. The suggestive sell works: The $7 parfait accounts for 18% of dessert sales at the 160-seat operation.
Pacific East in Amagansett, N.Y., has offered another old-fashioned dessert, baked Alaska, since it opened in 1997. Michael Castino, chef-partner at the 400-seat pan-Asian restaurant, thought that the retro dish would provide a clever counterpoint to the modern menu, and he was right: The $9 dessert, with house-made coconut ice cream, honey-toasted coconut, meringue and passion fruit purée, outsells even molten-chocolate cake. “What’s old is new again,” Castino says.
When he saw that apple pie was a favorite among his older customers, Deric Officer, executive chef at The Country Club at Boca Raton in Boca Raton, Fla., decided to whip up an upscale version of the classic. His Apple Cinnamon Raisin Crisp ($6.50) layers baked phyllo dough with vanilla ice cream and brandy-sautéed apples and raisins. “It’s like apple pie la mode, but it’s lighter than apple pie,” says Officer.
Layers of sophistication
Just as some chefs update standard ice-cream desserts, others use high-butterfat ice cream and other premium ingredients to re-create childhood favorites such as ice cream cakes, pies and sandwiches. Cold Stone Creamery, for instance, recently redid its line of ice cream cakes to offer customers a sophisticated, yet whimsical take on the birthday staple.
|Chef Amy Visco created this Peanut Butter and Chocolate Truffle Terrine at Kingís Crown Restaurant, Captiva Island, Fla.
“We saw that nobody was doing anything different: you couldn’t tell the difference between a cake from Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins or the grocery store,” says Melissa Underwood, director of new products for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based chain of 600 ice cream stores. “So we developed a cake that looks simple and eegant.”
To create its line of ice cream cakes, Cold Stone Creamery found a layer cake in three flavors (red velvet, yellow and devil’s food) formulated to retain moisture during the freezing process. The chain abandoned super-sweet frostings in garish blues and reds in favor of plain white frosting and a rich ganache, both formulated to be frozen.
“Previously, the cakes had a juvenile look, and now customers say they’d bring them to a dinner party. That’s exciting,” Underwood says.
|Houlihanís understands that decadent desserts combining ice cream and chocolate are never just for kids.
In late April, the chain rolled out a line of sophisticated cake flavors, including Coffeehouse Crunch (devil’s food cake, coffee ice cream and crunchy candy covered in ganache) and Cookie Dough Delirium (yellow cake and vanilla ice cream with cookie dough, chocolate shavings and white frosting). While upscale, the cakes “still hit all the standard flavors,” Underwood says.
The flavor profile of Gotham Bar’s upscale ice cream sandwich, however, is anything but standard. Deborah Racicot, pastry chef at the 160-seat New York City restaurant, sandwiches dulce de leche ice cream between sheets of pistachio pound cake, then tops the sandwich with vin santo-roasted apricots and apricot sorbet.
The $11.50 dessert, served when apricots are in season, excels on several levels, Racicot says. “The tartness of apricot pairs well with the sweetness and creaminess of the ice cream, and the cake has enough texture to balance out the ice cream. Then you bite into the hot apriIcots, and the sorbet’s there for color and another accent.
“I always try to do new and different things with the menu,” says Racicot of her ice-cream escapades, which have included rhubarb consommé with a terrine of mango and vanilla ice creams. “Anybody can put a quenelle on a plate, but why not make something different? It makes dessert a little more interesting for the customer.”
Ice cream stars
Chocolate truffles of dark-chocolate ice cream dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in candied walnuts, $7
Bloom, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Strawberry Passion Ice Cream Cake (right) with red-velvet cake and strawberry ice cream with graham-cracker crust, strawberry purée and strawberry frosting, $16 (whole cake)
Cold Stone Creamery, multiple locations
Apple Cinnamon Raisin Crisp with vanilla ice cream and brandy-sautéed apples and raisins, $6.50
The Country Club at Boca Raton, Boca Raton, Fla.
The Italian Soda: Orange ice cream, tangerine sorbet and orange cookies
Dominic, New York City
Frozen pistachio and dulce de leche terrine with vin santo-roasted apricots and apricot sorbet, $10.50
Gotham Bar, New York City
Ice Cream Dome with candy-crunch ice cream, cookie-and-peanut crust, caramel sauce and cherry garnish, $2
Houlihan’s, multiple locations
Profiteroles filled with Tahitian vanilla gelato topped with house-made chocolate sauce and candied pistachios, $7
La Tache, Chicago
Baked Alaska topped with honey-toasted coconut and passion fruit purée, $9
Pacific East, Amagansett, N.Y.
Apple Cinnamon Raisin Crisp
White-Chocolate Brownies With Ice Cream
Grilled Peach Melba
Lisa Bertagnoli is a Chicago-based freelance writer.