If you’re idea of an ice cream sandwich is a layer of bland vanilla ice cream squished between two soggy brown rectangular cookies, you haven’t tried a Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwich yet. This summer, we suggest you put eating one at the top of your To-Do List. Here’s why: Coolhaus ice cream is made from all-natural, organic ingredients in wacky and wonderful flavors like Bourbon Pecan, Froot Loops & Milk, Dirty Mint Chip, Waffle & Fried Chicken, and Nutella Toasted Almond. That’s all well and good, but this stuff gets sandwiched between homemade cookies in dreamy concoctions like Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, Double Chocolate, Maple Flapjack, and Snack Food Chocolate Chip (with pretzels, potato chips and corn flakes).
Founded in 2009 by architect Natasha Case and real estate developer Freya Estreller, Coolhaus was built on the madcap marriage of food and architecture, or as Natasha calls it, “Farchitecture.” As a student at UCLA School of Architecture, Natasha was inspired when a professor of hers likened one of her building models to a layer cake. That was her “Aha!” moment, when she realized that the ice cream sandwich was the ultimate architectural food: a cookie roof and floor with ice cream walls.
Rebelling against a childhood in which dessert was always low-fat and often involved vegetables, she was inspired to put her passion for building into something sweet, and began experimenting with ice cream and cookies. She called her business Coolhaus, a triple entendre on Bauhaus, the influential modernist design movement of the 1920s and 1930s; Rem Koolhaas, the famous Dutch architect; and the fact that an ice cream sandwich is, indeed, a “cool house.” Her sandwiches were named for icons of architecture: The Frank Behry (strawberry and cream gelato between snickerdoodle cookies); Bananas Norman Foster (bananas foster ice cream with double chocolate cookies); and the Mies Vanilla der Rohe (Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate chip cookies).
Natasha and Freya met through a mutual friend in 2008. The two started dating and the business partnership followed with Natasha behind the big picture ideas and Freya taking the reins on operations. After making ice cream sandwiches for friends to glowing reviews, the couple decided to see if it could become a business. In 2009, Natasha and Freya bought a dilapidated postal truck for $2900 off of Craigslist and persuaded a pliable AAA tow truck operator to tow them 200 miles to the Coachella festival where they made their Coolhaus debut, selling ice cream sandwiches, iced coffee, and iced tea from 7am until 4am every day.
The festival was a huge, crazy, wild mess in many ways (lots of high customers and workers made things complicated), but their cheerful demeanor, and their wildly good ice cream sandwiches earned them street cred, an investor, and a huge number of groupies. A media frenzy was unleashed, and what sprung from that broken down truck was a strong, healthy, and very delicious business.
Today, fleets of Coolhaus trucks roam the streets of Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas and Austin dispensing happiness in the form of architecturally-inspired ice cream sandwiches. There are two California brick and mortar shops, an online shop, distribution in 2000 retailers across the country (Whole Foods, Fairway, Sprouts, FreshDirect.com), and sales in quick service restaurants like Bareburger, that collectively sell about 5000 sandwiches on typical sunny summer day. Last year they sold at least one million ice cream sandwiches. They’ve also debuted a new line of ice cream bars in out-of-this world flavors like Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream dipped in salted caramel milk chocolate rolled in pretzels, coffee ice cream dipped in salted chocolate rolled in (natural) Oreos, and chocolate hazelnut ice cream dipped in salted chocolate rolled in roasted almonds.
Now comes their terrific new cookbook, “Coolhaus Ice Cream Book: Custom-Built Sandwiches with Crazy Good Combos of Cookies, Ice Creams, Gelatos and Sorbets.” The book is not only a great way to learn how to make ice cream and sorbet at home (the recipes are super easy to follow with tips on how to use home ice cream makers), but it’s an easy way to brush up on architecture, too. Interspersed throughout the book, Natasha and Freya have included cheat-sheets with details about their most beloved architects, along with hand-drawn sketches. It’s rare to come away from a cookbook knowing how to make salted caramel ice cream and learning that Buckminster Fuller was a Futurist who worked on the Geodesic Dome and inspired the Spaceship Earth dome at Disney World’s Epcot Center. Rare, but really cool.
What do ice cream sandwiches have in common with Rem Koolhaas?
Freya: Aside from the last name similarity, I think Rem is an innovator and multi-disciplinarian, just like the Coolhaus ice cream sandwich--pushing flavor boundaries & requiring cookie & ice cream mastery for the ultimate architecturally themed ice cream desserts (with the most structural integrity of course).
Natasha, you are always on the lookout for the next great ice cream flavor. You’ve even put your voicemail to work.
Ha! Yes, my voicemail message says, “You've reached Natasha Case with Coolhaus, please leave your fantasy ice cream flavor after the beep and I'll get back to you.” I get some awesome voicemails!
You have some crazy cool ice cream flavor combinations, some that sound like they would not work but really do. What is one flavor you thought would be great that did not work out?
Freya: Waldorf Salad Ice Cream, which was a blue cheese base with candied walnuts and apples. I think a dollop would actually pair well with a steak. But using aged cheese in a dessert is a fine line.
What are some tips for at home ice cream makers?
Natasha: Once you master making the base, you can really use ice cream as a platform for creativity. Fold in chocolate chips or cherries at the end so they don't sink to the bottom.
Freya: Don't add high proof liquor until the end of the churning process! It will prevent your ice cream from freezing. We recommend the Cuisinart gel canister ice cream maker. It’s super affordable and freezes your ice cream quicker than a compressor model.
Did you guys have a conversation about whether the cookies should be chewy or crunchy? I imagine the cookie consistency is very important because of the squish factor?
Freya: We definitely wanted a cookie that was not too thick, but not too thin. A chewy, moist and malleable cookie that would envelope the ice cream but wouldn't break when bitten into. You'll see in the book that we use a mix of all-purpose and cake flour, brown sugar, less egg white and lots of butter to achieve this consistency.
If you could invite anyone (living or dead) over for an ice cream sandwich social, who would that be?
Natasha: Jenna Lyons [Creative Director of J. Crew]. I hear she loves coffee ice cream. We'd make her a coffee Oreo ice cream sandwich on double chocolate sea salt cookies.
Freya: Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield for an epic ice cream social!!!
You are married and you are in business together. Any pointers for other couples who are thinking of mixing business and pleasure?
Freya: Make sure you are tackling two different sides of the business with one vision. For us, I was operations & finance and Natasha is CEO doing sales, marketing and branding. It definitely gets messy as your personal & business lives intersect, but I think it's that intensity that really helped us propel the business forward.
Anything you wish you had put in the book that you couldn't fit in because of space?
Natasha: Our white chocolate Mark Macadamia ice cream for my UCLA professor Mark Mack. He actually stars in our cookbook trailer video.
What do you both love to eat for dessert, other than your ice cream sandwiches?
Natasha and Freya: Cheese! Definitely cheese. The stinkier the better. We love Brillat Savarin and Humboldt Fog.