REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Farmer’s Market Strawberry Cheesecake

Cheesecake and ice cream have a lot in common. Decadent, creamy, high fat, versatile, celebratory, dairy-heavy, and downright delicious; most people can’t deny how stellar the two desserts are. That being said, I can’t say I would really want to eat the two at the same time, as combining them side by side on a plate might send me deep into dairy depths that my stomach may not be able to recover from. I am, however, a big fan of when the two worlds collide into a successful flavor of ice cream, which is unfortunately much easier said than done. With their latest batch of pints Coolhaus takes on the challenge with Farmer’s Market Strawberry Cheesecake, which combines mascarpone and cream cheese ice cream with a fresh strawberry swirl and graham cheesecake bites.

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REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Street Cart Churro Dough

Like many people living on the West Coast, my first introduction to churro’s was amid the tasty backdrop of Disneyland’s Main Street. The crispy crunchy combination of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar became a staple and must-have anytime visiting the Magic Kingdom. Now, living in San Francisco, I often see the more true origin of churro’s, in little push carts in the streets of the Mission district, on a regular basis. While I don’t often indulge in the long sticks of spicy delight while hitting up the mish for some tacos, it’s a flavor combo I still hold dear to my heart, and if you throw that shit in some ice cream I’m on it like an abandoned twenty dollar bill. Coolhaus’ Street Cart Churro Dough combines brown butter ice cream with cinnamon sugar churro dough and a chocolate chip swirl.

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When I initially read the description of this flavor my eyes lit up with excitement over the brown butter ice cream, which is one of my favorites, and I’m happy to report that Coolhaus delivered big time with its execution. It’s velvety smooth and creamy with an unmistakable browned butter flavor that accentuates the richness of the high quality dairy perfectly. The butter is incredibly authentic, and even leaves a slick on my tongue like I just put pack multiple handfuls of freshly popped movie theater popcorn. It’s a subtle spin on your average vanilla or sweet cream that elevates ice cream’s decadence to new heights when it’s done well, and this one is exceptional.

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The pieces of churro dough are also really good. They’re small gritty balls of cinnamon sugar delight very reminiscent of the mix-in from Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns with a bit more crunch and salty shine. While their overall flavor is definitely sweet, there’s an undercurrent of saltiness that really drives the dough-y component home. The cinnamon pops strong against the brown butter base and the two work together perfectly.

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Calling the chocolate chips a swirl is pretty accurate, as they’re more integrated specks of chocolate throughout than actual chunks of chocolate. The pieces remind me a lot of the shavings in Baskin Robbins’ Chocolate Chip, and they bring more gentle crunch than actual chocolate flavor. The integration of flecks of chocolate rather than B&J’s style chunks or flakes is awesome as it allows the buttery cinnamon flavors to be the star of the show, and I’m never taken out of the creamy churro fantasy.

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This flavor is currently only available to be ordered through Coolhaus’ online shop, but when it makes its way into grocery stores early next year it will be a standout offering in the frozen section for those lucky enough to have it. Brown butter ice cream is very rare in more mainstream outlets and hopefully this one sparks a change, because the extra depth and richness is terrific.
Rating: 9/10

Found at: Coolhaus online shop.

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REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Buttered French Toast

There are few lines in the culinary world that are as blurry as the one between breakfast and dessert. Cakey, carb-y, hyper-sweet and deep fried indulgences that could be nearly the exact same thing with a slightly different name are commonplace on menus and in our American hearts as a way to start or end the day. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the morning and night are probably the worst two times to encourage a massive sugar spike and crash, but I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t delicious. Completely in line with that trend, Coolhaus rolled out a brand new pint that aims to put a piece of breakfast’s finest into our melty cones of delight. Buttered French Toast combines a buttered brown sugar ice cream with pecan pralines, cakey toast pieces, and a maple swirl.

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The buttered brown sugar base is lovely. Smooth and sweet with a bit of golden buttery flavor that compliments the natural dairy notes very well. It doesn’t have an artificial butter flavor to it like popcorn, but there’s a depth to it that pushes beyond the average sweet cream. There are also some lovely hints of maple that come through, and the breakfast vibes are fully intact.

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Those breakfast vibes get fully amplified when my spoon comes in contact with the thick maple swirl. It’s an incredibly unique gelatinous swirl that holds its shape and pops up in globs all throughout the pint. I wasn’t sure how to react to this, because it’s almost like maple Jello, but I appreciate how prominent it is and the way it channels the viscosity of thick syrup that has latched onto a chunk of butter to become something truly epic. It’s much less sweet than straight up syrup, but the maple notes come through and the texture holds up well against the velvety base.

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Speaking of texture, the pecan pralines and cakey toast pieces are both executed very well. The pralines are of medium size with a caramelized exterior and robust fatty pecan flavor that reminds me of all the great butter pecan ice cream’s I’ve scooped. The pecan flavor gets elevated to another level with the toast pieces, which have the wonderful springy texture of white bread and a soft buttery essence. Sometimes bread can get icy or seize up in ice cream and that is not an issue here at all. The combination of the toast pieces, maple swirl, and brown sugar ice cream nails the profile of a beautiful plate of french toast almost perfectly, and the sweet breakfast lovin’ boy in me is immensely satisfied.

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Buttered French Toast is without a doubt the strongest pint I’ve had from Coolhaus. The mix-in density and base breathability are on point, the flavors strong, and the desired experience of breakfast meets dessert conveyed wonderfully.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.cool.haus and coming to stores soon!

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s The Great Candycopia

Today is the one year anniversary of my first review on Sean’s Skillet. While I had written and rambled on about food on many occasions, October 30 was the day I finally took the plunge, and it all started with a review of a dark twist on one of my favorite Baskin Robbins flavors growing up – Trick Oreo Treat. It only seemed fitting that my one year anniversary review would be of my favorite ice cream company’s version of a trick-or-treat inspired scoop, with Salt & Straw’s The Great Candycopia; which combines a salted butterscotch ice cream with homemade snickers, whoppers, heath bars, and peanut butter cups. UPDATE: for 2018 S&S took out the whoppers and replaced them with homemade Twix bar chunks

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First things first, Tyler at Salt & Straw absolutely nailed this salted butterscotch base. Butterscotch is such a unique yet subtle flavor, defined by cracking the sugar at just the right time and balancing it with enough butter, vanilla, and salt to carry those soft creamy notes, and this ice cream hits it on the head. The flavor is unmistakably butterscotch, just like popping a cold and super velvety Werther’s original into your mouth over a long conversation on grandma’s floral print couch. There’s something nostalgic and whimsical hidden inside all of its sugary glory, and it’s those warm melty sweet notes that make butterscotch such a throwback autumn treat. While butterscotch can oftentimes comes off as a too intense sugary punch to the face, the salted aspect of the ice cream helps balance out the potential over-the-top nature of the base for a well rounded and decadent experience that is full bodied and glorious, with moments of reprieve.

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Reese’s and Snickers are two of my favorite candies of all time, and both of the in-house versions of these specialties are fantastic. The peanut butter cups are in large delicious chunks with a very smooth and rich peanut butter that reminds me of the great mini cups at Trader Joe’s. The PB is fatty and nutty without being too sweet, which makes it stand out against the beautifully intense butterscotch. The Snickers are a little bit farther from the original but just as delicious, with perfectly soft and smooth caramel inside of lush snappy chocolate with little bits of nuts to tie it all together. There are no peanuts in the ingredients but there are pecans, and I think they went with that autumn staple in lieu of the peanut, which gives some additional contrast against the flavor in the cups.

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Whoppers and Heath bars are much lower on my list of favorite candies, but goddamn do they work wonders in the recipe here. It’s no secret that toffee is terrific in ice cream, and the deep, burnt, brown sugar caramel notes exist in perfect harmony with the butterscotch, delivering a huge satisfying fatty crunch. The whoppers play a similar role, maintaining all of their crunchy character and bringing a funky malt flavor to the profile that once again plays perfectly with the butterscotch and pops with huge chomp-y satisfaction. UPDATE: While I had no problem with the Whoppers, there’s no doubt the Twix is a big upgrade The cookie is softer than what you find the packaged variety with a massively thick layer of S&S’ top tier caramel.

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From the first bite in all the way to the bottom of the pint this ice cream is like trick-or-treating in the best way. Digging into the sea of orange-y tan and chocolate brown I never knew what I was going to pull out, and oftentimes I didn’t know until I bit in. Would the bite be soft and creamy or hard and crunchy or smooth and sweet? It’s like reaching into a candy-stuffed pillow case after a successful night on the halloween prowl, pulling out treat after treat after treat. Fantastic.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (www.saltandstraw.com)

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Pirates of the Chocolaty Caribbean

As a somewhat low key Disney fanboy and not so low key Salt & Straw fanboy I was completely puffed with joy when I read that the two would be collaborating for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Very rarely does a smaller craft brand like S&S get the chance to work with one of the entertainment industry’s titans, and I was genuinely excited not only for this release, but for what the relationship could mean in the future.  I was so excited that I read the press release at least five times, and in fact, I think it’s so well written that I’m going to stop my intro here and just post the official description from a couple weeks ago:

“Pirates of the Chocolaty Caribbean captures the sweetness and spice of rum and toasted sugar flavor of the island spirit by infusing a caramel ice cream with cinnamon, allspice, orange peel, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise. The real magic of this caramel spiced rum ice cream is the one-of-a-kind chocolate inside—single-origin chocolate from Trinidad, sourced locally from Bar Au Chocolat, studded with pop rocks that go off like pirate cannons between your teeth. Dig into the true flavor of the Caribbean in every scoop!”

Of course, this was a super limited time offering, only available at ONE shop in Los Angeles, but somehow, through the goodwill and kindness of Kim and Tyler and Salt & Straw, I was able to acquire a pint, and give it a taste for the skillet.

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By Salt & Straw standards this base is incredibly subdued, and for my personal tastes, a bit too mellow.  When I read the description of all the spices going into the ice cream my heart lit up, but they’re much harder to detect than I had anticipated.  Usually with S&S when they say something is in the flavor it is IN it and always executed with intense finesse, but here I had to really search for any prominent spicy notes.

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The ice cream is incredibly smooth and rich with a soft caramel essence that isn’t too sweet and finishes with a lovely buttery flavor that accentuates the high quality dairy like a well balanced sweet cream.  There is the slightest touch of cinnamon and nutmeg at the end, but even that is very subtle, with no star anise, cloves, or cardamon to be found.  There also isn’t any boozy rum flavor going on, which given the description of “caramel spiced rum ice cream” would have been really nice to taste as well, although I get the feeling the spices were supposed to emulate rum rather than alcohol being a prominent flavor.

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What really works wonderfully in this flavor is the pop rock studded dark chocolate, which delivers on everything it promised to be.  It’s incredibly dark and bitter with tons of small pop rocks that immediately start sizzling the second I chomp into them; and it really does feel like cannons going off in my mouth.  The chocolate is integrated in broken thin sheets and dispersed throughout the pint with perfection – some small shards of chocolate and some big chunks that keep each bite slightly different in bitterness and crunch.  It’s a funny juxtaposition to put such a novelty candy into high quality single origin chocolate but it works wonderfully, adding excitement to every bite.

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While I wish this ice cream had a true spiced rum base to compliment the very well executed chocolate, I can’t deny that it is still an incredibly well made and delicious product.  All of the more interesting ingredients fall to the background and simply temper the sweetness of the caramel for a more grown-up spin on flavors that are very familiar to ice cream aficionados.  In all honesty this is just a very high quality and slightly elevated chocolate chip ice cream, and a damn good one at that.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Salt & Straw Los Angeles

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REVIEW: Coolhaus Bananas Foster

Coolhaus are a small “architecturally inspired” Los Angeles based gourmet ice cream company founded on making big, craft ice cream cookie sandwiches, or, “cool houses”.  While their sandwiches are the main attraction, their pints have started popping up in Northern California grocery stores, and are now getting distribution in 4,000 stores across the United States, Asia, and the Middle East.  They are a quickly growing company that are simply too hot to ignore, and I was excited to find some of their flavors at my local Safeway.  After perusing all of the options I decided to make my first foray into Coolhaus with something you don’t see too often – Bananas Foster – which combines banana ice cream with a rum-spiked dulce de leche swirl.

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The banana base is great – smooth and creamy with a light but very authentic banana flavor that tastes natural and absolutely nothing like a banana Laffy Taffy.  It isn’t over the top sweet and leaves some room for pleasant vanilla undertones to come through and round out a lovely tropical flavor.  The problem is the flavor is almost so subtle that after a couple spoonfuls it fades away and I’m left with more of a clean vanilla or sweet cream taste than the banana I started with.  The texture is still on point but the dwindling flavor makes it less enticing to want to eat more.

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The rum spiked dulce de leche swirl is also tasty but lacking in some execution as well.  What I like about it is that the texture is nice and thick like a condensed milk, differentiating it as a dulce de leche rather than just a caramel.  It isn’t too sweet but there is also almost no rum flavor whatsoever.  Maybe the rum is tempering the sweetness, but I was hoping for at least some amount of boozy kick and I’m just not finding it.  The swirl also isn’t incorporated very much into the ice cream, predominantly running down the sides, which means I have to dig and scrape the sticky stuff rather than encounter it while eating and that takes a little bit of the fun away.

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Both elements in this pint are of high quality with great texture and subtle restraint, but just missing the mark to give that wow factor I was hoping for.  There’s no doubt Coolhaus makes a solid product, but this flavor needs some kind of crunchy textural element like brûlée-d sugar  and/or more swirl to really take it to the next level.

Rating: 6.5/10