Winter Scoop

I have an ice cream problem. (I don’t want to know how many quarts I consume annually, but I’m sure it's on the far right side of the bell curve). You’d think my habit might slow down in the winter, but alas, snowstorms make matters worse – the snow reminds me of iced milk and melting custard.

So while others were stirring chili and sipping cocoa as “Snowmageddon” hit New York City three days ago, our post-sledding warm-up involved squeezing ice cream between cookies.

I first made these sandwiches while testing recipes for Alex Guarnaschelli’s cookbook, Old-School Comfort Food. They are hands down the best ice cream sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. A fudgy, chewy cookie with a slightly crisp exterior – think portable brownie sundae minus the hot fudge. And it’s not impossible to bite into once frozen (my biggest gripe with most other versions.)

Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

2½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon)
1½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus an extra dash
1 pint ice cream  

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two baking sheets with butter.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the chocolates and butter. Create a double boiler by filling a medium pot that will hold the bowl of chocolate snuggly with 1 inch of water. (The bowl should not touch the water.) Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat so the water is hot but not boiling. Set the bowl of chocolates and butter on the pot, stirring often with a rubber spatula, until melted. Remove from the heat.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg on high until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on high until the mixture thickens slightly and turns pale yellow, about 5 minutes. (Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.) Using a rubber spatula, gently mix in the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
4. Drop 1 tablespoon lumps of the cookie batter onto the baking sheets, leaving about 1½ inches between each. You should have about 10 cookies per baking sheet. Bake for 4 minutes, rotate the pan from front to back, and bake until they crack slightly but still look somewhat moist, an additional 4 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. (They will flatten slightly once cooled.)

5. Scoop 3 tablespoons of ice cream and press into a fairly round 1-inch-thick puck. Sandwich the ice cream puck between 2 cookies and press gently until the ice cream is about ¾ inch thick. Eat immediately or wrap and freeze until ready to eat. Repeat with the remaining cookies and ice cream. Makes about 10 mini (2-inch) sandwiches. Adapted from “Old School Comfort Food” by Alex Guarnaschelli.




Gingerbread House

My three-year-old's gingerbread house.

My three-year-old's gingerbread house.

It's Christmas. Time to decorate. This year, I decided to host a kid gingerbread house making party. Yikes! I admit, preparing five homes was an insane amount of work. But one is totally doable. And, hey, your kid will be so proud;  so will you.

After experimenting with a few doughs, I landed on one that's sturdy enough for construction (note, there's no egg) yet satisfies my incorrigible sweet tooth.

What you'll need:
1. Food coloring paste (paste won't thin out your egg white mixture)
2. Cookie making ingredients (see below; though in a pinch you can make mini homes with graham crackers).
3. Piece of cardboard to set your house on. (Pizza boxes are perfect.)
4. Quart size sealable freezer bags. For piping the egg white paste.
5. Hard stock paper (cardboard or photo paper), for making stencils.
6. Lots of candy - Necco wafers (roof tiles), Twizzlers (chimney), Smooth & Melty mints, M&Ms, mini candy canes, Skittles, candy cane mint rounds (walkway), yogurt-covered pretzels (fence), gumdrops, tree gumdrops (shrubs), large marshmallows (snowmen), Hershey's bar (shutters)...
7. A few cookie cutters: gingerbread man, tree, snowman (for decorating around the house).

Gingerbread House

For the house:
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1 tablespoon vinegar (cider or white wine vinegar)

For the tacky paste:
5 egg whites
2 (1 pound) boxes confectioners’ sugar,

1. Over a large bowl or piece of wax paper, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter rapidly for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Scrape the sides of the bowl again. Beat in the molasses and vinegar until fluffy, about 1 minute more. On low speed, add the flour mixture, a little at a time, stirring until just combined.
3. Divide dough in half. Flatten, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until hard, about 1 hour. Roll dough between two sheets of plastic wrap to between 1/8 to 3/16-inch-thick and chill for at least 30 minutes, preferably more.
4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut gingerbread house or gingerbread men from dough (See stencil NOTES below). Work quickly as the dough softens fast. Rechill and reroll dough as needed. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until firm to touch, about 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Once cool, use a serrated knife to reshape the gingerbread to the size of your original stencils (place the stencils over the hard cookies and with a sawing motion, cut through the cookie).
5. Make the paste: using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the whites until frothy. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. You want the paste to hold the line of your finger when you place it through it. Distribute egg white paste among small bowls and add food coloring, as desired.
6. Transfer white or colored egg white pastes to pastry bags or quart size sealable freezer bags. Snip the tip with scissor. You’re ready to assemble. (See notes below.)

A. Using heavy stock paper, carve the following stencils:
One 5¾ by 4¾ inch rectangle [roof]
One 2½ by 4 inch rectangle [sides of house]
One 2½ by 4 inch rectangle plus a triangle above it (4 by 4½ by 4½ inch) [front or back of house]
One 1 1/8 by ½ by 1 inch triangle under 1 by ½ inch rectangle [chimney]

B. Use stencils to carve out raw cookie dough
Place the stencils over the raw rolled-out dough.  Make sure to cut 2 of each (roof, sides, front- back of house, and chimney).

C. Use stencil again to reshape the cookies
Once the cookies are fully cooled and hard, use a serrated knife and saw through the hard cookie following the lines of the stencils to reshape.

D. Add food coloring to egg white paste
Add Wilton food coloring (not watery ones) to the egg white paste to create colors. Glue with plain white paste, decorate with colored ones.

E. Use a large piece of cardboard for the base of the gingy house
You can cover it with egg white paste to create snow. Spread the paste flat and evenly across the bottom.

F. Decorate the house pieces first
Let them harden and dry, and then attach the house. Use plenty of paste. And keep the edges of each house side clear of candies (they could be in the way when you glue the sides together).