Creative Containers for Handheld Frozen Treats
On the March 17h episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, Jeremy and Kaitlyn Carlson pitched their idea for Crispy Cones, a sweet dough cone freshly grilled rotisserie-style, covered with cinnamon sugar, filled with soft serve ice cream, and topped with a drizzle of sauce. They were thrilled when Shark Barbara Corcoran took a bite, with a $200,000 investment for a 20 percent stake in their company. The financial boost jump-started the couple’s goal to franchise their adaptation of a centuries old Middle European snack food, also known as chimney cones or cakes. During the Carlson’s spirited presentation, Kaitlyn dismissed the traditional ice cream cone as a boring, crumbly, cardboard coffin – a notion that is also on the radar of a cohort of culinary entrepreneurs and chefs who are finding innovative receptacles for their frozen hand-held treats.
In New York at Mercado Little Spain, José Andrés is scooping soft serve into xuxos, traditional crunchy fried croissant-like Spanish pastries; corn ice cream tucked into a taco shell and topped with cajeta whipped cream is on the dessert menu at Alex Stupak’s Empellon; at Pooja Bavishi’s Malai Ice Cream, Masala Chai ice cream is paired with Chai Molasses Cookies; Fany Gerson bookends ice cream sandwiches with babka or churros at La Newyorkina; and the fish-shaped Japanese cone Taiyaki is a Chinatown lure.
Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy, weighing in on the top bakery and pastry trends for 2023, cites street food-inspired desserts and baked goods, portable on-the-go indulgence, new twists on familiar concepts, and snacking more than ever. When it comes to ice cream, the chocolate company reports in Ice Cream Innovations for 2023, handheld snacks are no longer just ice cream bars; innovations in shape, size and portability are making snacking on ice cream easier than ever.
Having customers snack on Crispy Cones nationwide is the Carlson’s mission, and six weeks after the Shark Tank program aired, the Idaho-based company had sold 13 franchises. “Now,” Jeremy says, “it’s just scaling and growing and perfecting the systems we have in place.” After starting out on the side of the road five years ago, the Carlson’s shifted to a trailer, then to brick-and-mortar, offering all fresh-to-order cones, natural flavors, and a constant flow of new cones and toppings. Recently black cherry soft serve with chocolate toppings, and a coconut powdered cone with coconut cream pie were weekly specials. “We plan our flavors six months ahead with the operating and market teams to ensure good flavor and sufficient inventory,” Jeremy explains. The new franchisees will spend two weeks training at headquarters, and the Carlsons will return the visits for eight days, split before and after opening.
Franchising is also on the agenda of another rotisseried cone company, California’s House of Chimney Cakes, founded by Hungarian-born model Szandra Szabo and her business partner, Chef Omar Lara. At their home base in Anaheim, and satellites in Michigan and Texas, customers can choose between simple glazed and filled grilled cones, or opt for one of a dozen over-the-top combinations like Tiramisu, chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream swirl in a mocha powdered chimney cone, espresso powder, coffee syrup, lady finger, mocha pirouette cookie, and chocolate sauce.
While other chimney cone ventures are cropping up from Mesa, Arizona, to Fort Wayne, Indiana, traditional ice cream shops are upgrading their scoops with vibrantly colored and flavored waffle cones that are neither boring or crumbly, made by firms like La Rose Noire, AussieBlends and The Konery. Kristine Tonkonow, who transitioned from F & B to entrepreneur to found The Konery a decade ago, recalled that “it all started with the idea that cones could be better, as exciting as ice cream. Our goal is always for the cone to enhance whatever it is paired with and add an extra layer of texture and flavor,” Tonkonow explains. “We never go too crazy or obscure with flavors, because we want the cone to be fun, versatile, and to be enjoyed by people of all ages.” Over a dozen color-coordinated flavors, rainbow-hued red velvet, green matcha, and salted blue corn, or delicate lavender and pink vanilla, are embossed with a distinctive scallop pattern and shipped from The Konery’s Brooklyn factory to wholesale and retail buyers.
One of The Konery’s neighbors and loyal customers, Malai Ice Cream in Cobble Hill, celebrates owner Pooja Bavishi’s Indian roots with robust, aromatically spiced South Asian ingredients. An inventory of 50 flavors ranges from the flagship Rose with Cinnamon Roasted Almonds to specials like Madam Vice President, a blend of coconut and mango ice cream with jaggery candied lotus seeds accented with a bright blend of ginger root and spices. Bavishi has just opened a second location in Manhattan at the James Beard Foundation’s new food hall, Market 57, where she also sells her dense, rich kulfi pops and ice cream sandwiches like Chocolate Chili Cookie with Spiced Peanut Crunch Ice Cream, and Cardamom Snickerdoodle Cookie with Rose Ice Cream.
Ice cream sandwiches and bars have come a long way since the turn of the 20th century when street vendors put a brick of vanilla ice cream between a pair of thin perforated chocolate wafers. Two decades later, frozen novelties on a stick came on the scene with inventors in Ohio, Iowa, and California obtaining patents for Good Humor, Eskimo Pies, and Popsicles – the start of a century-long parade of handheld treats available from carts and trucks, in grocery freezers, and at scoop shops. Now, dessert artisans are expanding the options at outlets that showcase local ingredients and imaginative riffs on the classics.
Ice cream sandwiches have been an inspirational success story for a pair of Richmond, Virginia-based culinary partners, Pastry Chef Hannah Pollock and her chef husband, Xavier Meers. They worked together in fine dining establishments for years before starting to sell Pollock’s hand-crafted sandwiches as a sideline at farmers’ markets in 2016. Finding an enthusiastic reception, the Meers were soon filling orders for grocery stores, restaurants, and events, and subsequently left the restaurant kitchen to build the Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwich brand. Expanding from a few hundred sandwiches a week to over 15,000 a day in a dedicated production facility, the ice cream is still hand churned and the cookies made in-house for distribution to markets in 22 states and counting. Nightingale turns out nine year-round flavors plus limited editions, like the upcoming Raspberry Donut and Mango Lemonade and last year a collaboration with Nicky Hilton on a Blondie, pairing honeycomb ice cream with golden graham cracker cookies. Nightingale recently launched a mini-version, Chomp, that is available on Jet Blue flights to London in their four favorite flavors: Cookie Monster, Classic, Chocolate Blackout, and Strawberry.
Other pastry chefs have left restaurants to helm brick-and-mortar boutiques that offer an expansive selection of hand-held frozen treats. In Philadelphia, Jen Weckerle, formerly at the pioneer farm-to-table White Dog Café, built her own micro-creamery to pasteurize milk and provide cream and eggs for Weckerly’s Ice Cream’s two shops. She added a bakery so her team could experiment with mix-ins using ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors, rolling out a roster of “bold and nuanced” flavors like beet ice cream and sweet cream walnut ice cream with goat cheese icing on walnut brown butter cookies. This spring a quartet of strawberry sandwiches included a Neapolitan with chocolate chip cookies, and another with layers of roasted strawberry ice cream and white coffee ice cream with a crunchy almond crumble sandwiched between two slices of confetti cake. Weckerly’s sandwiches are also sold at local markets, packaged in white wrappers with whimsical botanical illustrations.
Eye catching covers for a colorful array of portable frozen novelties are also part of the ambiance at Chicago’s Pretty Cool Ice Cream, opened in 2018 by award winning pastry chef Dana Cree and Michael Ciapciak of BangBang Pie and Biscuits. Cree, author of Hello, My Name is Ice Cream (Clarkson Potter, 2017), collaborates with local artists, culinarians and non-profits to craft hand-dipped and decorated gluten-free ice cream sandwiches, bars, and pops. The Grasshopper’s green jacket holds a cream custard style ice cream dipped in a chocolate shell with bits of crushed chocolate wafers; the Caramel Horchata Crunch bar features horchata ice cream flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, dipped in a golden caramel shell with crispy rice pieces.
New sandwiches debut seasonally at Pretty Cool, such as this spring’s strawberry lemonade with sprinkly cookies and strawberry ice cream dipped in a lemony yellow white chocolate shell; some boost community ties like the Halvah Chocolate Chip Sandwich and Bar, a joint endeavor with Mary Eder-McClure, the pastry chef at Galit, a restaurant in Cree’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
In the bygone era when edible ice cream containers were “a novel luxury,” a newspaper reporter marveled “no spoons, nor saucers, no washing of dishes.” Now we can marvel at the diversity of handheld frozen treats and celebrate National Ice Cream Sandwich Day on August 2nd, and National Ice Cream Cone Day on September 22nd.
(This article appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)