- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Holidays bring out the child in us, but to my mind, nothing beats the summer triad for regenerating our sense of innocence.First,there’s Memorial Day, with its promise of endless carefree days. Then, we have July 4, the American midsummer’s night. Finally, there’s bittersweet Labor Day, which offers time for one last fling before you-know-what starts.

So when my daughter, Jessica, suggested an ice-cream-sandwich party for her grandparents’ Labor Day bash, it seemed a fitting conclusion on many levels. How much more comforting can you get than cookies and ice cream?

Little did we anticipate that everyone from 8 to 80 would soon be negotiating trades: “I’ll give you half my sweet-cream-and-chocolate sandwich for half your honey-gingersnap.”

Yes, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate are fine, but why bother making something you can find in the supermarket? We decided to tweak the concept.

I think it was the counterpoint of texture and flavor in each bite that made this dessert spread so much more than the sum of its parts.

Inspired by abundant seasonal fruit and favorite old-fashioned flavors, Jessica settled on sweet cream ice cream (think vanilla, but not) with classic crisp chocolate wafers; tangy Santa Rosa plum ice cream with lemon-scented cornmeal cookies and honey ice cream with Moravian gingersnaps, an unforgettable contrast of spicy-hot cookie tempered by ice cream’s cool creaminess. The combinations were different enough to intrigue the sophisticates and familiar enough to please the youngsters.

Making three kinds of sandwiches for a crowd is an effort, but options for grander accomplishments open up when you join forces with a friend or family member.

Although we made three ice cream flavors, we used only one master recipe and adapted it to create the others, a trick we learned from Jessica’s friend Kim Boyce, a pastry chef. Sweet cream (inspired by crema, the Italian gelato flavor in which the taste of cream stars) is perfect as is with chocolate cookies.

With the plum ice cream, the absence of vanilla allowed the pure taste of ripe fruit to shine through. To create a creamy honey ice cream, we simply substituted a mild honey for the sugar. And, of course, the cookie dough can be made in advance and frozen.

But if too-much-work bells are ringing in your head, there are many interesting ice cream and sorbet flavors on the market these days to speed preparation.

Consider pineapple or mango sorbet, caramel, or butterscotch ripple with gingersnaps. Or raspberry, chocolate chip mint or coconut with chocolate wafers, maybe with edges rolled in chopped almonds for a riff on Almond Joy candy bars or, even easier, chocolate chips. The only problem will be narrowing your choices.

Whether this Labor Day party project involves cooking or simply assembling (you can even buy cookies), ice cream sandwiches are a do-ahead dessert.

When it’s showtime, just pull them out of the freezer or transport in a cooler to the park, beach or — as in our case — grandmother’s house. Or turn the sandwich-making into a party activity: Set out a variety of ice creams, cookies, nuts and jimmies. Have guests make their own and pop the sandwiches into the freezer. They’ll be perfect in an hour or so.

If you’re going homemade, the project divides up into manageable tasks because the components need to chill, rest or cool before proceeding to the next step. We learned a few things along the way:

• Cookies should be crisp, not chewy, for best results, and the dough rolled or sliced very thin for the best cookie-to-ice cream ratio.

• For smooth, non-icy fruit ice creams, macerate the fruit first, another chef’s trick. Sprinkle sugar over cut-up fruit, let stand an hour to draw out the juices, and then puree before stirring into the cooled custard base. Try this with other summer fruit, including apricots, nectarines, peaches, strawberries and blackberries. Our plums were so sweet that we added only 1/2 cup sugar. Be careful not to over-sugar so you don’t lose the delicious sweetness-acid balance of good fruit.

• Pack ice creams for the freezer in loaf-shaped pans or plastic containers to make sandwich assembly easier.

• Match up cookies in same-size pairs, bottom sides together.

• Remove one kind of ice cream from the freezer at a time, and let it soften slightly until pliable but not melting. (The honey ice cream didn’t need any softening, but the plum ice cream, with its higher water content, needed more time out of the freezer to reach the right consistency.)

• With a flat ice cream shovel or large serving spoon, scoop ice cream into shallow slabs rather than round balls, and stack a few of these tiles onto a bottom cookie.

• The ice cream layer should be about an inch thick and generally extend to the edge of the cookie, but don’t worry about getting it perfect. These are homemade ice cream sandwiches and should have a friendly, rustic appearance.

• Gently place the top cookie on the ice cream. Don’t press too hard or the cookie may break. As soon as you have three or four sandwiches assembled, put them in the freezer. Ferry remaining sandwiches to the freezer as completed.

• Work quickly, but if the ice cream becomes too soft, return it briefly to the freezer. Freeze the completed sandwiches in a single layer on baking sheets until firm, then wrap individually, if you like, and freeze in airtight containers until ready to serve later.

At the end of the day, making three kinds of ice cream sandwiches was worth the effort.

Perhaps our greatest success at summer’s sunset was that the abundance awakened a child-in-a-candy-store feeling in everyone at the party. It may not take a village to craft this favorite childhood dessert for a crowd, but it helps to have a few good friends.

Cornmeal cookies

This recipe was adapted from “Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook,” by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear (Ten Speed). The easy-to-work-with dough turns out lemon-yellow cookies that make a nice color and texture contrast to a rainbow of fruit-flavored ice creams.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 ½ cups flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until well-blended. Beat in lemon juice, egg yolks and lemon zest.

In another bowl, toss together the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add the butter-sugar mixture and blend thoroughly. Divide dough in half (it will be soft), and on a lightly floured surface, push, pat and roll each piece into a cylinder about 5 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for a few hours or overnight until firm.

With a thin, sharp knife, cut dough into slices 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Place one inch apart on greased baking sheets and bake in preheated 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes.

Cookies should spread and puff just slightly, but not brown. Remove cookies to a rack to cool and store in an airtight container. Makes 2½ dozen cookies.

French chocolate wafers

This recipe was adapted from “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel).

1½ cups sifted flour, plus more for rolling dough

11/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter

11/4 cups sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon dark rum or ½ teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup strained, powdered, unsweetened cocoa (preferably Dutch process)

Milk for brushing cookies

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In large bowl of electric mixer, beat the butter to soften it a bit, then gradually add the sugar and beat for 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in egg and rum or vanilla. On lowest speed, gradually add the cocoa, scraping bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the sifted-flour mixture, continuing to scrape bowl with spatula and beating only until smooth. Remove from mixer and wrap airtight. Flatten lightly.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm enough to roll.Work with about one third of the dough at a time, keeping the rest refrigerated. Work quickly before the dough softens. Lightly flour a surface and rolling pin.

Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, turning it a few times to keep it from sticking, flouring lightly as needed. Cut cookies with a round 3-inch cookie cutter, and place them 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops lightly with milk.

Bake in upper third of oven in preheated 400-degree oven, 7 to 8 minutes, reversing cookie sheet during baking to ensure even baking. Do not let the edges burn.

With a wide metal spatula transfer cookies to a rack to cool. They will crisp as they cool.

Repeat with remaining dough, saving all scraps in the refrigerator. Re-roll all scraps together and cut cookies. Store baked cookies in an airtight container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Moravian gingersnaps

This recipe was adapted from “Nancy Silverton’s Pastries From the La Brea Bakery,” by Nancy Silverton and Teri Gelber (Villard).

This sticky dough requires generous flouring for rolling out, and because of the large amount of fresh ginger root in the recipe, the cookies are best baked within 24 hours of serving. The results are worth the extra effort.

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger root

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 tablespoons molasses

1 extra-large egg white

1 cup plus 4 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, fresh ginger root, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves on low, 2 to 3 minutes, until softened.

Add granulated and light brown sugars, and mix on medium for 3 to 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the molasses and mix another half-minute.

Add the egg white, and mix on low until combined. Add the flour in 3 batches, turning the mixer off before each addition and mixing on low until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, divide in half and flatten each into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, at least 4 to 6 hours or overnight.

On a floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to 1/8-inch thickness. The dough will be very sticky, so flour as necessary.

Use 3-inch cookie cutter to cut cookies and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill sheet pans until dough is firm, about 20 minutes. Gather scraps and re-chill while rolling out second disk of dough. Re-roll all scraps together to cut more cookies.

Bake cookies in preheated 350-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned and crisped, rotating the baking sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Sweet cream ice cream

This recipe was adapted from a recipe by Kimberly Boyce.

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup milk

½ cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 egg yolks

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring cream, milk, sugar and salt to a boil. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks together. Once the cream mixture has come to a rolling boil, turn off the heat. Take one cup of the hot cream mixture and stream it slowly into the yolks, whisking constantly..

Slowly pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk. Turn the flame on low and cook until the base thickens slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, as the mixture will curdle.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer and chill for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1½ quarts.VARIATIONS

For honey ice cream:

Substitute ½ cup honey for the sugar and proceed as above. Try a strong-flavored honey, such as lavender or chestnut, for a sophisticated version.

For plum ice cream:

11/4 pounds ripe plums or other stone fruit (see note)

½ to 2/3 cup sugar (see note)

Remove pits from plums. Place plums in bowl with sugar, let stand one hour and thoroughly puree in a blender or food processor. Prepare sweet cream ice cream recipe through straining the custard and cool slightly.

Stir plum puree into custard, and chill several hours or overnight before processing in ice cream maker. Makes 2 quarts.

Note: To substitute berries, reduce amount of fruit to 1 pound. Also, the amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit.

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