DAVID GREENE, HOST:
On this Fourth of July morning, many of you across this country might be waking up to thoughts of firing up that grill. Many kids - well, you might be thinking about ice cream. It is a treat that like few others has the power to evoke nostalgia. Just listen to this moment from a promotional film distributed back in 1955 by the National Dairy Council. It depicts a grandfather looking back on summers when he was a boy.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, every Sunday in those days, before television radio and movies, making ice cream was usually a family event. And it was sure worth all the bother. If we wanted ice cream, I turned the crank.
GREENE: And handmade ice cream is still pretty special. For this Independence Day, my colleague Renee Montagne paid a visit to The Coolhaus ice cream shop, just a few blocks from NPR West in Culver City, California. There, creative new flavors are being used as building blocks in crafting the ultimate ice cream sandwich.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Something to know about Natasha Case, the co-founder of Coolhaus, is that she was not trained as a cook. She was trained as an architect, where one of her graduate school projects set her on the path to designing ice cream instead of buildings.
NATASHA CASE: At UCLA, where I went for grad school, I just got into different ways of using food as the medium to talk about architecture. How could food send people a message or educate people about design? So I called it for Farchitecture - food plus architecture.
MONTAGNE: She even made an architectural model out of a layer cake. It's a concept that greets you the moment you step into the door of this ice cream shop. There on the wall - a life-size image of the man who inspired the name Coolhaus, architect Rem Koolhaas.
CASE: I consider myself, you know, very punny - a punisher if you will, and Coolhaus is a play on Bauhaus architecture and Rem Koolhaas the architect. And then the third kind of entendre there is the ice cream sort of look like cold houses as do our trucks.
MONTAGNE: Little Coolhaus.
CASE: Little Coolhauses, yes. But it's punny, and it's silly because the idea was making architecture fun and accessible and digestible for people.
MONTAGNE: Some of these silly puns are found in the names of Coolhaus' ice cream sandwiches - I. M. Pei becomes I. M. Pei-nut butter. Mies van der Rohe becomes Mies Vanilla der Rohe. Now, Coolhaus is out with a book of ice cream recipes and our lesson in building ice cream sandwiches began with the cookies, which function as the foundation.
CASE: There's definitely an architecture to the sandwich. The foundation - it has to be pliable, it has to be a little chewy so that it can hold the scoop. And as you're eating the sandwich, not fall apart and not just crunch off. The ice cream itself is kind of the glue of the sandwich - it holds it all together. And then the top cookie as well - if it's too hard and too crunchy, it's just going to push all the center of the ice cream sandwich out.
MONTAGNE: Making ice cream has gotten a lot easier from the days of rock salt and endless churning. Today's electric ice cream makers hum quietly as they churn on their own.
CASE: So this is the custard base that I've made actually last night. We do recommend chilling it overnight for best consistency, or at least five hours. It's just organic milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks. Its eight egg yolks.
MONTAGNE: And Natasha Case says the absolute key to great ice cream is getting the base right.
CASE: The base is the part that most people when they make ice cream mess up, actually.
MONTAGNE: What's to mess up?
CASE: So when you're making the base, very, very commonly people just either throw the eggs in or there's too much hot milk, cream and sugar on the eggs too fast and then they'll just sort of curdle. And then you don't want to cook the custard too long either because it will become a harder, more solid custard. But once you've made the base right, I mean, literally you're putting it in the machine and then adding your inclusions. So usually from there you're good to go.
MONTAGNE: And inclusions. That's the ice cream industry's term for the chunks and chips and bits that are folded into the ice cream. In this case, we're making going to make Coolhaus' dirty mint chip. Usually, mint chip is flavored by mint extract or an oil. Natasha Case uses only fresh mint leaves, chopped up surprisingly rough.
CASE: And then you leave the mint in there. And what it does, it continues to infuse the ice cream over time so it actually gets more powerful.
MONTAGNE: Then she hands me a third of a cup of the chopped mint.
CASE: You want to put the mint in?
And the next inclusion - chocolate chips. So mint chocolate chip - a classic and delicious. Still, many of Coolhaus' customers are part of late taste trend - they come in the door looking for an adventure in ice cream.
CASE: The palette has evolved. More and more are not sweet on sweet on sweet flavors are bigger ones. People like a lot of savory, they like a lot of spice. They like sour. So we have for example our fried chicken and waffles ice cream, which is total salt and savory, and that's one of our bestsellers. We just launched a goat milk caramel with mascarpone and rosemary. The mascarpone is a little savory, the goat milk caramel is actually quite sour. Again, huge hit. A few years ago, we had our sweet corn and blueberry ice cream as a summer flavor. It wasn't that big to be honest. We brought it back this season - it's huge.
MONTAGNE: All these loopy flavors have serious implications for the two cookies holding together the ice cream sandwich that we are here to taste this summer day.
CASE: Chewy, not overly sweet because if you're going to have two and ice cream, you don't want to be in a food coma after. In fact, in many of the recipes, it's just brown sugar. And brown sugar is only half as sweet as white sugar but also it creates that caramely, chewy component. So that's really key.
MONTAGNE: Now at last, between two oatmeal raisin cookies - brown sugar only - Natasha Case gently places a big scoop of balsamic fig mascarpone ice cream.
This is the - the fun part is actually strategizing around the fact that you've got to, like, keep it together.
CASE: Yeah, I would say so.
MONTAGNE: In fact, it makes me want to run out into the hot sun just to make it that much harder. But thank you, this was delicious.
CASE: Awesome. It was my pleasure to have you here.
MONTAGNE: You can make your own balsamic fig mascarpone ice cream and the dirty mint chip. We've got recipes from the Coolhaus ice cream book on our website npr.org. And on this Fourth of July, you're listening to MORNING EDITION on NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
GREENE: And I'm David Greene.