REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding

Salt & Straw’s June Rescued Food line of ice creams is one of the most interesting and engaging things I’ve seen a craft company do, and San Francisco got blessed with some seriously amazing flavors. Joining forces with SF based Food Runners, they took all of the unused pastries from bay area startup meetings and put them to good use, instead of in the trash can. While Food Runners usually take these baked goodies and deliver them to people in need, this month S&S bought them from the company and turned them into the fantastic Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding, which combines a spiced banana ice cream with chunks of bread pudding and a sesame caramel swirl.

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This is not your standard banana ice cream. Immediately the distinct flavor of squishy over ripened bananas smacks me in the face, with a taste that is so different and much sharper than what many banana bases offer. There’s a cutting, almost syrupy sweetness to hyper-ripe bananas that comes through beautifully and is balanced out and complimented by the high quality dairy. Rounding out the profile is a healthy dose of nutmeg, and with the use of that spice the banana base BECOMES banana bread ice cream, as the unique strong banana flavor mingling with spices and sweet honey notes is instantly recognizable as one of the most beloved quick breads in the game.

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For the actual bread part of the bread pudding equation, S&S made a cinnamon-spiked custard and tossed all of those destined-to-be-garbage pastries into it to create one big mismatched wheel of flavor. This is one of the most interesting elements of the flavor, as every pint, and likely every scoop, is going to be slightly different. I had a massive chunk of what felt like layers of crunchy filo dough or some kind of pie crust, and a bite with raisins, and another bite that tasted like cinnamon roll streusel. It’s a lot of fun. The element of surprise makes digging into this ice cream pure enjoyment, and the undercurrent of the cinnamon flavor drives the banana bread essence even farther.

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The final piece to this bread pudding puzzle is the sesame caramel, which, like most S&S swirls, is executed with skill and finesse. When eaten in conjunction with the other components the caramel adds the sweetness and gooey-ness you’d expect, but is a lot less dark and burnt tasting than the standard S&S caramel. The caramel helps marry the other two elements together in ooey-harmony, but when you taste it on its own it absolutely bursts with sesame flavor. The unmistakable earthy flavor that drives tahini is very present in the sweet swirl and adds a deep savory quality to the experience that brings the rescued food theme home.

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Simply put, this is Salt & Straw at their absolute finest – mixing delicious decadent flavors with innovation and purpose in ways that not many brands can accomplish. There’s plenty of intense decadence out there without the creativity, and plenty of elevated ice cream churners without the whimsy, but S&S manage to achieve both simultaneously and this is a glowing example of what makes them some of the absolute best in the expanding world of gourmet ice cream.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco)

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Breakside Brewery’s Spent Grains & Bacon S’mores

No stranger to being the cool kids in the ice cream class, Salt & Straw are kicking off the summer season with an entire line of gourmet flavors using recycled and rescued ingredients.  No, they didn’t dig through the garbage to make a creamy casserole of mismatched scraps, but rather, sought out byproducts of food processes, fruit too bruised to sell at full price, or bread that is too stale to stay on shelves and flipped them into inventive flavors of melty indulgence.  As a country that wastes 40% of our food, this is a great thing to do for the United States, and owners Kim and Tyler Malek estimate this limited line alone will save around 2,000 pounds of food waste.  For Breakside Brewery’s Spent Grains & Bacon S’mores, S&S utilized the flavor of leftover grains and malts from brewing beer and combined them with chocolate chunks and a bacon marshmallow fluff swirl.

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Anytime that I see bacon as a component used in a sweet or non-traditional way I get skeptical that it is there purely for gimmick because of the “everything is better with bacon” hype, but with this flavor that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The marshmallow swirl is composed of 70% or so pure fluffy sweet marshmallow fluff, with an incredible balance of bounce and sugar that is everything a marshmallow should be – it’s perfect.  Dispersed sporadically throughout the ‘mallow are chunks of bacon that cut through the sweetness with a touch of salt and a wonderfully pronounced smokiness that evokes the flavors of a campfire.  The bacon is used not only to add an interesting tasting component, but to elevate the entire s’mores experience to a new, truer level than I’ve had in ice cream and it is fantastic.

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The chocolate, unsurprisingly because it’s Salt & Straw, is incredibly dark and bitter with a big, bold cocoa flavor and an interesting gritty texture.  It tastes very high quality and feels like some of the spent grains were used in the pieces, as there’s a chunky density to the chocolate instead of the typical smooth and clean texture that usually coincides with chips/chunks.

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Rounding the entire s’mores experience out is the actual ice cream itself, which is a slightly gritty yet still silky smooth graham cracker base with light honey notes and hints of earthiness.  The texture feels like a bunch of crackers were ground up and soaked in cream and then churned without any kind of aggressive straining to filter out the bits.  The base is also where the recycled component comes into play, mixing the roasted spent grains from Breakside Brewery in conjunction with the graham to create a deep slightly smoky presence, and there are no odd flavors that seem out of place or boozy for a s’mores ice cream; everything works incredibly well.

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The only element missing from an ideal s’mores experience is gooey melted chocolate, but all the flavors are represented and the execution of the recycled theme is spot on.  A wonderful start to the June line, this one is a must try for people who love marshmallow, s’mores, or bacon used in brilliant new ways.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.saltandstraw.com or in scoops shops in Portland, OR

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