Designing The Perfectly Architectural Ice Cream Sandwich

Jul 4, 2014
Originally published on July 7, 2014 6:26 am

Coolhaus ice cream shop — which is just blocks from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. — is famous for its ice cream, which comes in crazy cool flavors like Whisky Luck Charms and Peking Duck.

Coolhaus recently came out with a cookbook, so NPR's Renee Montagne visited the shop to learn how some of these loopy flavors can be used as building blocks in crafting the ultimate ice cream sandwich.

The first thing you'll want to know: The co-founder of Coolhaus, Natasha Case, was not trained as a cook or chef. She was actually trained as an architect — which helps explain the name of her establishment.

"Coolhaus is a play on Bauhaus architecture and Rem Koolhaas, the architect," Case explains. A life-size image of Rem greets Coolhaus customers; he's Case's favorite.

Plus, Case says, "the ice cream sort of looks like little cold houses, as do our trucks."

The ice cream shop itself grew out of a concept that Case began exploring in her graduate architecture program. "I called it 'farchitecture,' food plus architecture," she says. "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?"

She started experimenting with different desserts — she even made an architectural model out of a layer cake. Eventually, she opened Coolhaus.

Many of her famous ice cream sandwiches pay heed to the architecture greats. The architect behind the Louvre pyramid, I.M. Pei, becomes "I.M. Pei-nut butter." And Mies van der Rohe — one of the pioneers of modern architecture — becomes "Mies Vanilla der Rohe."

"I consider myself, you know, very punny," Case says. "A pun-isher, if you will."

But the principles of building design really come into play in the construction of the shop's famous ice cream sandwiches.

"There's definitely an architecture to the sandwich," Case says. The bottom cookie is the foundation, and it has to be pliable, so that "as you're eating the sandwich [it won't] fall apart and not just crunch off," she says.

The ice cream in the middle serves as the glue — it holds the whole structure together, Case says. And finally, you've got to mind the top cookie. "If it's too hard and too crunchy, it's just going to push all the center of the ice cream sandwich out."

For the custard ice cream base, the Coolhaus approach is to go creative. "I think [customers'] palate has evolved," Case says. At Coolhaus, Fried Chicken and Waffles is a favorite, as is Goat Milk and Caramel.

Check out Coolhaus' recipes for Dirty Mint Chip and Balsamic Fig Mascarpone, below.

Plain Custard Base Recipe from the Coolhaus Ice Cream Book

Use the freshest eggs available for best results. If possible, refrigerate the base for a full 24 hours— the longer, the better. We like to chill our bases in plastic or stainless-steel pitchers with airtight lids for easy pouring into the ice cream maker after chilling.

Makes about 1 1⁄2 quarts

2 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1 1⁄4 cups granulated sugar

8 large egg yolks

In a 4 quart saucepan, combine milk, cream, and half of sugar. Set over high heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk yolks and remaining sugar until smooth, heavy, and pale yellow — about 30 seconds.

When cream mixture just comes to a boil, whisk, remove from heat, and, in a slow stream, pour half of cream mixture over yolk and sugar mixture, whisking constantly until blended.

Return pan to stovetop over low heat. Whisking constantly, stream yolk-cream mixture back into pan.

With a wooden spoon, continue stirring until mixture registers 165 to 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. Do not heat above 180 degrees, or eggs in base will scramble. Mixture should be slightly thickened and coat back of spoon, with steam rising, but not boiling. (If you blow on the back of the spoon and the mixture ripples, you've got the right consistency.)

Pour base into a clean airtight container and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours before using.

Use base within 3 to 5 days

Coolhaus' Balsamic Fig Mascarpone Ice Cream

The French electronic band Justice chose this flavor to represent them at Coachella. The elegant European flavors of this ice cream get a sugar slap from dried figs, mellowed by mascarpone. The chewiness of the figs contrasts nicely with the crunchy almonds, which add a toasty facet to the ice cream that will make you wanna D-A-N-C-E.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1⁄2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup coarsely chopped dried

Mission figs

1(4 ounce) container mascarpone

Pinch kosher salt

Plain Custard Base

1. In a small heavy saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil over high heat and cook until reduced by half. Reduce heat to low, add figs, and reduce liquid until syrup just covers figs about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2 . Mix mascarpone and salt into base with an immersion blender or a hand mixer.

3. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

4. Transfer to a bowl and fold in balsamic-fig mixture.

5 Scrape into an airtight storage container. Freeze for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Coolhaus' Dirty Mint Chip Ice Cream

We have news for you. That supermarket mint chip ice cream with the nuclear-green color? It doesn't have any mint leaves in it. It has mint oil or fake mint flavoring, and that nasty color comes from artificial coloring. Real, fresh mint leaves give our Dirty Mint a fresh, cool intensity. Why is it "dirty"? Because we use brown sugar in the base, which gives the ice cream a deep caramel punch and a natural light brown color. It is also "dirty" because we don't strain out the mint. Leaving it in deepens the flavor the longer the ice cream is in the freezer.

(Warning: This has been known to convert mint ice cream haters.)

Makes about: 1 1⁄2 quarts

1⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

1⁄2 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

Plain Custard Base (page 28) or Eggless Base (page 30), made with light brown sugar instead of granulated

1⁄2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (we like Guittard or Ghirardelli)

1. Stir mint leaves, dark brown sugar, and salt into base. Mix well.

2. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

3. Transfer to a bowl and fold in chocolate chips.

4. Scrape into an airtight storage container. Freeze for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Recipes reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


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.


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.


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 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.