While nothing hits the spot quite like an ice cream sandwich on a hot summer day, many grocery-store varieties are loaded with saturated fat, unnatural additives and extra sugar. But hang on for a sec and just chill: the classic dessert doesn’t have to be that unhealthy. We tapped pastry chefs and ice cream whizzes across the country for their best nuggets of advice on how to lighten up the treat. Turns out you can have your ice cream sandwich—and eat the cake part, too.
1. Take the Dairy Out
Swap out dairy ice cream for just-as-creamy nut alternatives. Cashew milk options (like the new line by So Delicious) come with less calories, sugar, cholesterol and fat than their milk-laden counterparts. Or, go (coco)nuts: “Coconut milk ice cream is high in fat, but studies have found that coconut fat may actually aid weight loss,” says HSN Chef Robert Irvine. “That’s because the type of fat coconut contains is metabolized differently than other fats. Plus, they’ve been shown to provide antioxidants similar to those in berries, grapes and dark chocolate.” Almond and soy milk ice creams all also come pretty close to the real deal and are definitely worth a try, too.
2. Add Some Avo
We all adore avocados on our toast and guacamole, but they’re pretty great when served as dessert, too. And no, it’s not crazy to do that: their creamy consistency can serve as a genius substitute in frozen sweets. Nutritionist Kayleen St. John, RD, at New York City’s National Gourmet Institute recommends swapping out ice cream for frozen “avocado mousse.” To make, blend avocado, cocoa powder and maple syrup, plus a splash of almond or coconut milk to thin it down, and freeze before spreading between your cookie of choice.
3. Go For the Skinny Guys
Delicately crispy cookies will literally slash calories if swapped in for dense or cakey kinds. “Try really thin cookies—like caramel-y almond Florentines, graham crackers, chocolate wafers or King Arthur’s crisp lemon-ginger wafers,” suggests Chef Dana Cree of Blackbird, who’s a current James Beard Foundation Outstanding Pastry Chef nominee (that’s the food world equivalent of a Grammy nomination!).
4. Give Beets a Chance
Jon Feshan, Executive Chef at County restaurant, makes an irresistible ice cream with the vitamin A-rich veggie. Naturally sweet and brilliantly crimson, beet juice is a regular part of our lives—so why not work it into dessert as well, right? Between downing spoonfuls of the stuff, Chef Feshan was kind enough to share the recipe with us (heads up, you’ll need an ice cream maker!).
Combine two cups of half and half with one cup heavy cream and one cup sugar in a sauce pot. Put over medium heat and bring to 180 degrees, measuring with a food thermometer. (If you don’t have one, let the liquid reach a simmer but not a boil.) Remove pot from stove and set it in an ice bath in a metal container. While cream cools, chop a roasted red beet using a knife or box grater. Add the beet to the mixture and let it sit overnight in the metal container, covered in the refrigerator. Use the ice cream maker to churn the mix to soft ice cream. Transfer to a plastic or metal container with lid and place in the freezer.
And if you still can’t come around to the beets idea? Use the same formula but work in another all-natural, good-for-you flavor, like carrot and ginger.
5. Bring on the Bananas
If sorbet is healthier than ice cream—it saves you a load of calories and fat—then making an at-home frozen fruit dessert, sans sorbet’s added sugar, is an even healthier option. (This handy Yonanas machine makes it even easier to turn frozen fruit into soft-serve, but you can also break down frozen fruit in a food processor and freeze.) Start with bananas as a base: they’re naturally creamy and packed with fiber and potassium. St. John suggests working in other frozen fruit, like kiwi, strawberries or blackberries, for a rainbow effect. Have a weakness for bananas with peanut butter? No shame. Pulse the frozen fruit with peanut butter (for protein and healthy fats). Or go crazy and add a little cocoa for chocolate flavor instead.
6. Get Jiggly With It
If you have a favorite family recipe you can’t live without, try lightening up the old original with healthy swaps or additions. For example, if a recipe calls for five egg yolks, Irvine suggests the chef’s trick of using only three yolks plus 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin to keep the ice cream “rich and creamy without adding extra fat,” he says. (P.S.: You can find powdered gelatin in the baking section of any grocery store.)
7. Create a Whole New Cookie
Want to try something unique? Try a nutrient-dense bread instead of cookies. “Thinly slice a fruit-nut bread and lightly toast it,” suggests Chef William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves, a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Baker Award Nominee. Plus, it’ll make for a crowd friendly moment: “Since these would need to be made a la minute [that’s chef speak for ‘right before you serve it’], they’re great for summer parties,” he says. “You can get your guests involved in making them.”
For an even healthier—and more chocolatey—sandwich cookie, blend together pecans or walnuts with dates and cacao until sticky, press into the bottom of a lined bread pan and freeze. Wholesome, yet manages to quell that sweet craving.
Photos courtesy of SELF.