Have you ever returned to a restaurant your mind set on that one favorite dish only to find out it's been taken off the menu?
Yeah, me too. Most recently I headed back to a favorite spot, my mouth watering for a bite of a frozen treat featuring a cookie crust and layers of fudge, ice cream, caramel and chocolate chip cookie dough. You can imagine my disappointment when I learned it was no longer on the menu. Still craving that sweet masterpiece, I headed into my kitchen to recreate, or at least try to recreate, that decadent dessert.
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The easiest thing to do was to purchase all the "layers" of this dessert -- a pre-made crust, a roll of cookie dough, etc., but the final product proved to be overly sweet and without the defined flavors I remembered. Not one to give up so easily, I experimented with each layer and ended up with a dessert that was worth the extra effort.
Crushed Oreos and melted butter proved to be the perfect crust, holding together well when pressed into a spring form pan and when cut in its frozen state. Vanilla wafers yielded a crumbly and unstable finished product.
One of my unforeseen challenges was how to include a layer of unbaked cookie dough in this frozen dessert. I originally thought this layer would be simple; I planned to purchase prepared cookie dough, but upon further inspection, I noticed all packages included a warning about eating raw cookie dough. This forced me into research mode, and in the end I found a cookie dough recipe online that didn't use eggs. With a few tweaks, the recipe worked perfectly. That being said, if you are in a pinch, you may substitute with cookie dough ice cream.
The caramel layer proved to be the most challenging. Prepared ice cream topping tastes way too sweet, so I tried melting caramels with butter and sweetened condensed milk, part of another recipe I have used frequently. But even that mixture was too difficult to cut when it froze.
After a couple other "science" experiments, I found success with Ina Garten's recipe for Fleur de Sel Caramel. I've made this candy recipe many times, but this time I undercooked the mixture heating it to only 230 degrees, or the "thread" stage in candy making terms (not the 248 degrees as directed in the recipe). The result was a very soft caramel that maintained its creamy texture when frozen.
Yet the crowning jewel of this caramel is the fleur de sel -- a fine-grain sea salt -- that is added during cooking and then again after adding this layer of amber goodness creating the perfect balance of sweet and salty. If you don't have time to make your own caramel, sample prepared toppings and select the one with the least amount of sugar and most caramel flavor.
The fudge layer had me worried -- was I going to have to make this layer from scratch too? Luckily, I found the Mrs. Richardson's brand of fudge ice cream topping that provided strong chocolate flavor without being overly sweet. Pick a fudge that is firm when at room temperature, as a syrup will not work well in this recipe.
Finally ... The ice cream. I found that allowing the ice cream to sit out of the freezer for about 10 minutes worked well, but the time will depend on the brand you use. You want the consistency to be soft and spreadable, not melted. The brand and flavor is up to you, but be careful not to select a flavor that will compete with your other ingredients.
Assembling this masterpiece requires some patience; it is best to allow most layers to set in the freezer before adding the next layer, and when complete, it's best if you allow it to freeze overnight before serving. This makes it the perfect dessert to prepare ahead of time, and if stored properly, the desert will keep for several weeks.
Fortunately, after several trials, my adaptation of our restaurant favorite was a success, and I learned valuable lessons along the way that will allow me to create well balanced ice cream creations in the future. Make this dessert your own by adding your favorites ingredients and trying new ones. The combinations are endless!
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the Daily Herald's 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge.