The best time of the year is fast approaching, and as a certified spice fiend-ing cinna-slut I am ready for the equinox that arrives on September 22 at 1:02 PM PST. There will be so many special spicy pumpkin-y treats everywhere I turn that the air will taste of cloves. Since the leaves haven’t quite changed yet, I’ve found myself leaning back on the trusty year round crutch for myself and fellow spice-aholics – carrot cake. Seemingly in sync with my personal preferences for a little pre-autumn foreplay, Salt & Straw have laced their August Farmers Market series with an ode to one of the few desserts I would ever order with a vegetable in its name. Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline combines a carrot cake batter ice cream with candied hazelnuts and a swirl of cheesecake frosting.
The carrot cake batter ice cream is executed with insane perfection. It’s extremely smooth and creamy but also hefty with shreds of carrots seamlessly working their way through nearly every bite. It eats like a cake-baking dream, with spicy notes of nutmeg and cinnamon beneath a wonderfully balanced sweetness from both the dairy and the carrots themselves. In every way it reminds me of the scraping and licking reward after whipping up some batter and I can’t think of a single way that the base could be improved to more accurately translate that highlight of any day in the kitchen.
While I generally associate walnuts with carrot cake I absolutely love the candied hazelnuts S&S threw into the mix here. They definitely have a slight candied sweet quality to them, but what they really provide is a dark, roasted, burnt-in-a-good way, caramelized richness that brings huge contrast and legitimate spoon intrigue to the equation. Hazelnut’s naturally have an intense, almost harsh flavor to them, and the aggressive roasted quality works well to heighten the presence of the spices in the “batter” as well as offset the general sweetness throughout. They also add a significant textural pop to the pint, with both a nutty crunch and a praline squish that is everything a perfect mix-in should be. Simply put, I love them.
The swirl of “cheesecake” frosting, much like the inclusion of hazelnuts, is another brilliant slight switch up to the carrot cake formula that works wonders here. The swirl is essentially a cream cheese frosting but has a more restrained sweetness than the usual straight forward frosting or glaze with some beautiful cheesy notes and ample vanilla. The ribbon is dotted with vanilla beans which play perfectly against the tang and give a very cohesive and slightly savory but still predominantly sweet flavor in tandem with the base. It’s integrated seamlessly throughout the pint, with some thick sheets along the sides, never getting too dominant, but never straying too far from the spoon either.
Despite the zero percent of actual cake in this pint, this is my favorite carrot cake flavored thing I have ever had that isn’t in actual slice form. The flavors are incredible, the idea is inventive, and the execution is immaculate. It is extremely rare for a cake batter ice cream to really channel the joys of licking the spoon, and this one not only does that, but does it in a way that is creative, elevated, and delicious.
Found at: Salt & Straw ($11 – online and in stores)