At virtually every holiday gathering with my dad’s side of the family, going back over 20 years, a bright orange package of King’s Hawaiian Rolls have made a prominent appearance. As a youngster I gained the reputation of being a Kings Hawaiian enthusiast (addict?), downing multiple rolls with a proper slathering of butter at the start of every meal…and sometimes after. I don’t eat them with as much ferocity as an adult, but they will forever have a place in my heart. For 2021 Salt & Straw have reimagined the entirely of their coveted Thanksgiving menu, including an inventive take on the almighty bread and butter. Parker House Rolls with Salted Buttercream is a salted sweet cream ice cream with a salted buttercream swirl and chunks of Parker house rolls.
I’ve had a ton of salted bases, most notably vanilla, but I think this might be my first foray into a salted sweet cream. The base is slightly savory with a decent saltiness and a super smooth, dense, premium texture that tempers like a dream. The salt paired with the sweet cream reminds me a bit of cream cheese. Although it has no tang, without the floral notes of vanilla or a dominant sweetness it carries a similar richness to cream cheese, which I really enjoy.
The fifth ingredient on the label is King’s Hawaiian Rolls, above everything except dairy and sugar, and that heavy-handed distribution is brilliant. The rolls stay soft and almost gooey in the ice cream, and their signature sweet flavor shines through the salted base perfectly. I have no idea how they did it but Tyler and the Salt & Straw crew managed to preserve everything that makes these rolls so special; it tastes like magic. According to their website the rolls were glazed with fresh churned buttercream before being put into the ice cream and I’m willing to bet that helped translate the mix-in to the ice cream with such impressive pizazz.
The salted buttercream, whether actually swirled or broken off from the tops of the rolls, is amazing. It’s rich and thick and buttery with an almost firm texture and amazing sweetness that only gets deeper from the added sea salt. It’s one of the densest and intense frosting swirls I’ve ever had and it absolutely steals the show in this simple but very effective pint.
On paper this flavor reads like a bit of a hat on a hat — a salted base with a salted swirl and a bread-y mix-in that’s sweet and also salty — but it absolutely works. Salt & Straw have taken the most mundane of Thanksgiving sides, bread and butter, and turned it into a complex and layered ice cream that’s simultaneously nostalgic and brand new all at the same time. Delicious.
I could go on and on about how much I love Salt & Straw’s Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake. I’ve made it my mission this year to get everyone I possibly can to hear me out and try it. CCPCC is the fine craft of ice cream perfected to such a degree that I hope it comes back every March, or in my dreams, permanently. Another of this months voted back offerings, Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie, is no slouch either, but there’s a sneaky good flavor lingering beneath the glitz and glam that really deserves your attention too. Sweet Corn & Waffle Cones combines a sweet corn ice cream with chocolate covered waffle cones, freckles of salted brown butter, and ribbons of rich vanilla caramel.
March is a wonderful time of the year. Temperatures start heating up, basketball is in full swing, the flowers begin blooming their little buds, and more importantly, Salt & Straw bring back their fan voted favorites. My very first formal Salt & Straw review was the astounding Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake which was voted in last year and is back again this year for good reason – it’s incredible. The 2018 voting season also brought back the whimsical Pots of Gold and Rainbows, and a flavor that hasn’t seen the light of day since 2015 – Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie. This citrusy scoop combines a Nilla Wafer ice cream with housemade lemon curd and silky marshmallow fluff.
Among the coolest things I got to do while covering the Salt & Straw expansion to San Francisco for SF Weekly last week (check out the article here) was sit in with co-founder and ice cream maestro Tyler Malek as he made some fresh Olive Oil ice cream. The process in their new small SF kitchen was incredibly simple and equipped with only a small batch churner as they await the arrival of their 5 gallon ice cream machine to crank out bigger batches on the regular. I put together a short video showing some of the process that I found really interesting, engaging, and of course, tasty 😉
The time has finally come and on this Friday, April 14, the bay area will get its first Salt & Straw scoop shop. The stellar Portland-based ice cream company will be taking a similar approach to their stores in Los Angeles and will offer some SF scoop shop only flavors that you have to be present for to actually experience and taste that will be unique not only in their exclusivity but in their profile to represent the bay area. I was fortunate enough to get to try a couple of these flavors before they hit the public, and like everything S&S does, they are impressively great. Salt and Straw’s San Francisco exclusive flavor Roasted Strawberry Tres Leches combines a roasted strawberry ice cream with chunks of tres leches cake and a vanilla strawberry jam swirl.
The strawberry ice cream is perfect. Bursting with authentic slightly tart strawberry flavor there’s a touch of saltiness to the base that is simply delectable and tempers the aggressive sweetness of the jam to create a full bodied multi-layered berry flavor. The roasted element of the strawberries gives a true-to-taste fruit experience that shares absolutely nothing in common with lower quality, artificial tasting “strawberry” ice creams. I’m not as well versed on berry bases as I am with sweet cream, caramel, or chocolate, but this is without a doubt my favorite strawberry I have ever had.
The tres leches cake is dense and chewy in a way that resembles cake batter with a beautiful cinnamon flavor that melds harmoniously with the two fruity components. There’s a touch of golden sheen to the cake that reminds me of graham crackers in the best way – channeling honey and spice and childhood nostalgia. A little bit of the cinnamon seeps into the strawberry, so even when you get a bite without cake there’s an added touch of spicy depth that elevates the ice cream beyond your basic berry and into something transcendent.
What makes Salt and Straw so incredible is their precise attention to detail, and everything about that precision is represented in this pint. From the use of vanilla strawberry jam instead of just strawberry, which adds a round fullness to the flavor, to the subtle use of salt to balance everything out, Salt & Straw truly craft the scoops of ice cream lovers’ dreams.