Not your grandma's ice cream sandwich anymore

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Versatile yet simple, familiar but adaptable to the latest post-meal fashion, the ice cream sandwich is increasingly becoming both trendy and a dessert staple.

Versatile yet simple, familiar but adaptable to the latest post-meal fashion, the ice cream sandwich is increasingly becoming both trendy and a dessert staple.

"The basic ice cream sandwich is a simple idea for pastry chefs to configure, whether by using high-quality ice cream, varying the external layers of cookie or changing its size or shape," said Jon Snyder, owner of Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York City, a producer of gelato, richly flavored Italian-style ice cream, for restaurants and retail sale. "It's one of those cyclical things that will always be around in some form."

At Aziza, a contemporary Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco, the Fresh Mint Ice Cream Sandwich plays on the classic combination of mint and chocolate, said its creator, pastry chef consultant Janet Rikala Dalton. Two disks of chocolate brownie cookie embracing the mint ice cream are plated over hot chocolate sauce. Rounding out the presentation is a small cup of hot mint tea.

"Customers seem to like familiar desserts with a sophisticated twist," said Dalton. In addition, she noted that the mint is refreshing after Aziza's lively cooking.

Dalton makes the ice cream base by steeping fresh garden mint leaves in cream, then adding milk, sugar and egg yolks. The cookies are composed of melted butter, bittersweet 70-percent chocolate, eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour and baking powder. They are scooped and baked until they crack like brownies.

Dalton makes the ice cream base by steeping fresh garden mint leaves in cream, then adding milk, sugar and egg yolks. The cookies are composed of melted butter, bittersweet 70-percent chocolate, eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour and baking powder. They are scooped and baked until they crack like brownies.

"People have always loved ice cream," said Emily Luchetti, executive pastry chef of Farallon, a coastal cuisine restaurant in San Francisco, and author of "A Passion for Ice Cream," which has a chapter on ice cream sandwiches. "But with all the artisanal chocolate, organic ingredients and superb seasonal fruits available, there's even greater motivation to make and eat ice cream."

The versatile, easy-to-make items really shine in dessert sampler plates. "You can miniaturize them and put them on a dessert buffet or pass them on trays at parties, or include them in composed desserts with assorted pastries, cookies, sorbets and so on," said Luchetti.

A case in point is the Ice Cream Sandwich Trio that Luchetti authored at Farallon. The three were gingersnap cookies filled with lemon ice cream, fudge cookies with fresh mint ice cream and coffee-flavored meringue disks with coconut ice cream. "People just loved it," said Lucchetti.

At the Yarrow Bay Grill and Beach Cafe in Kirkland, Wash., a two-bite sandwich of mocha ice cream between cocoa-nib shortbread cookies is one of several miniature treats customers may choose for $1.50 apiece in a dessert aptly named Just a Bite. Pastry chef Jessica Campbell has also offered an Oreo-like affair of chocolate sable cookies filled with vanilla ice cream. "The simpler sandwich flavors seem to be the most popular," she said.

A more substantial plate known simply as Assorted Ice Cream Sandwiches is the best-selling dessert at Lure Fishbar in New York City. Executive chef Josh Capon offers four types: chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream, oatmeal raisin cookies with cinnamon ice cream, peanut butter cookies with milk chocolate ice cream and a chocolate drizzle and vanilla shortbread cookies with strawberry ice cream dipped in Belgian chocolate. "It's gourmet but at the same time kid-friendly," said Capon. He claimed that nearly every table at the casual seafood restaurant gets at least one order. "Few people leave not having tried it," said Capon. It is priced at $8.

A creative pastry chef can endlessly tweak the concept. Luchetti, for example, has wrapped sandwiches with such diverse materials as florentine cookies studded with pistachios and cocoa nibs, circles of hardened milk chocolate and buttery shortcake biscuits.

For the optimum ice cream filling, Luchetti advised infusing the flavoring ingredients, such as fresh ginger root, cinnamon sticks, toasted nuts or fresh mint leaves, in the cream and milk that will later be churned into ice cream. "Infusion really drives the flavor into the ice cream," she said. "Powdered spices don't transmit as well."

At Otto Enoteca Pizzeria in New York City, the beloved Sicilian staple of gelato in brioche — a soft, sweet roll filled with a scoop of gelato - loses only a little in translation. "People over there eat it at 10 in the morning, 4 in the afternoon, whenever," said pastry chef Meredith Kurtzman. In the old country, it's a handheld street food served on wax paper with a plastic spoon. But at Otto, it's a plated dessert, priced at $3.50. Sales of dishes of gelato dwarf those of the brioche-wrapped treat, Kurtzman admitted, but the latter exemplifies Otto's commitment to authenticity in its gelato program.

What frontiers are next for the ice cream sandwich? "I'd really like to find a way to invert it — make the ice cream the wrapper and the cookie the filling," said Robert Tarlow, pastry chef of Grace, a contemporary American restaurant in Los Angeles. "I like to re-conceive familiar dishes in different ways."