Homemade Klondike Bars
We've all sat through the rhetorical questioning of a television commercial, numb to its effects. Do you happen to have any Grey Poupon? How many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Where's the beef? Got milk? Little did I know that one such question would lead me on a journey of self-discovery, and test the limits of my culinary skill: What would you doooooo for a Klondike Bar?
The Fluffy Filling
The components of a Klondike bar seem straightforward enough—slabs of plain ice cream, coated in crispy milk chocolate. Yet that simplicity belies a curious complexity: Beneath a whisper-thin and explosively crisp chocolate shell is no ordinary ice cream, but a fluffy filling as light and pure as driven snow.
Those qualities made me think of fior di latte gelato, but as soon as I'd tackled that recipe, I knew it was going to be too rich for this filling. So I tried to lighten things up by using homemade ice milk, only to find it was far too lean. And neither could compare to the cloud-like softness of the inside of a Klondike Bar.
Texturally, the closest I came was with my no-churn vanilla ice cream, which owes its feather-light texture to whole eggs and sugar cooked over a water bath, then whipped until foamy and pale.
After I'd added whipped cream and frozen it overnight, the texture was about as close to that of a Klondike Bar as I'd ever come, but those whole eggs gave it a custard-like flavor and color. Perfect for old-fashioned vanilla ice cream, but not for a supernaturally pale frozen novelty.
This got me thinking: If egg yolks were all that ruined the flavor and color, why not leave them out? With egg whites alone, the sugar-and-water-bath technique would give me something ultra light, fluffy, and mild: Swiss meringue.
Because it's fully cooked, this style of meringue is extremely stable, and perfectly amenable to the addition of soft butter (at which point it becomes Swiss buttercream), so I had a hunch it would do well with whipped cream instead.
In fact, it did a little too well. My trial run of Swiss meringue folded with whipped cream wound up almost comically light, with an excessively soft, Cool Whip–like texture. Perfectly delicious, and Klondike-esque in its simplicity, but much more like whipped cream than ice cream, and not particularly amenable to being sliced into bars.
Fortunately, the fix was as easy as cutting the meringue with a splash of milk.
Aside from contributing a pleasantly milky flavor, the added milk deflated the meringue ever so slightly, giving it a more ice cream–like density, and provided enough water to allow the meringue to freeze hard. Not too hard—just hard enough to slice into bars.
For that, I scraped the "ice cream" into a square cake pan lined with two overhanging sheets of parchment, and spread it flat with an offset spatula.
The recipe can be scaled to accommodate almost any pan, but an eight-inch-square pan will fit into any freezer, and the nine-bar yield is supremely manageable in terms of the logistics of dipping as well as freezer storage. And logistics are indeed key—you'll need a good mise en place and efficient organization so that the dipping process can move along as briskly as possible, given that you'll be coating quick-to-melt ice cream in warm chocolate. There’s no need to rush or move at a breakneck pace, but nor should you dally around.
In that spirit, one piece of equipment that's a huge help in keeping the bars cold is a thick cutting board that's narrow enough to fit in the freezer. When the cutting board is chilled overnight along with the ice cream bars, it provides an ice-cold work surface to keep the bars cold during both the cutting and the dipping phases.
To cut the bars, remove the pan and cutting board from the freezer, and use the parchment flaps to tug out the brick of ice cream. Cover the exposed surface with a sheet of parchment, and flip the whole thing over to peel the parchment off the bottom.
Using a large chef's knife, cut the ice cream into nine squares. If you have a deep-seated need for precision, each bar will be 2.66 inches wide. But, especially given that you'll be in something of a race against the clock, it's okay to eyeball it.
Cover the ice cream bars in plastic to prevent odor absorption, and return them to the freezer. They can sit there for however long it takes to prepare the chocolate coating, but if you plan to leave them in there overnight for convenience, do be sure they're wrapped up nice and tight. Freezers are home to all sorts of stale, funky smells that this mild ice cream can soak up like a sponge.
The Chocolate Shell
For those looking to capture a true Klondike Bar flavor, reach for a relatively dark milk chocolate, such as Endangered Species 48% (my personal fave) or Whole Foods 39%.
Both are among my top supermarket picks and have a chocolate flavor that's deep enough to contrast with the filling, but not so potent that it completely overwhelms the delicate milky notes. Dark chocolate works on a technical level, but its flavor is so bold that the flavor of the ice cream is completely lost.
As with stracciatella gelato, I make the coating for homemade Klondike Bars using a combination of chocolate and refined coconut oil. Cutting the milk chocolate with oil lowers its melting point, so it won't sit on your tongue like a waxy lump when frozen; meanwhile, using a saturated fat like coconut oil helps create a crunchy snap.
Unlike the chocolate chips in stracciatella, however, this coating has a higher proportion of oil, for a super-thin, fluid consistency that ensures a light and even coating, rather than one that's heavy and thick.
Time to Dip!
After it's melted, transfer the chocolate mixture to the smallest bowl you have that can accommodate the ice cream bars—about four inches wide and three inches deep—and cool the mixture until it registers about 80°F (27°C) on a digital thermometer before dipping.
That temperature may sound a little warm, but remember that each ice cream bar will cool it slightly; starting with cooler chocolate will mean it's more inclined to lump and seize. Plus, a cooler coating will form a thicker layer around each bar, and, however tasty that may sound, it'll ruin the delicate snap of a thin chocolate shell.
To dip, use a spatula to drop one bar into the chocolate, then quickly dunk it under and lift it out with a fork.
Let the excess coating drip off, then return the bar to a clean patch of parchment on the chilled cutting board.
Think of it a little like a conveyor belt, with plain bars taken from the bottom and dipped bars placed near the top. As you work, the "naked" bars that remain can be scooted down to make room for the new bars as they're dipped.
Keeping both on the same cutting board means you can pop the board back in the freezer as needed along the way. If you have the freezer space for two separate cutting boards, though, by all means, spread your wings!
Once all the bars have been dipped, return them to the freezer until the chocolate has fully set.
Any leftover chocolate coating can be strained and spread out in a thin sheet to freeze for reuse as DIY chocolate chips for ice cream. Alternatively, re-melt it to use as a sauce for cake and ice cream, or as a dip for fruit like strawberries and sliced bananas.
It's perfectly normal to see a few blowouts here and there in your bars; the chocolate coating contracts as it freezes, which can force a little "eruption" of semi-melted ice cream. Don't sweat it if you notice a few imperfections, but an excess of explosions can indicate working conditions that are too warm.
Once the coating has set, the bars can be wrapped in plain or decorative foil.
This isn't a strictly necessary step, but it provides an extra layer of protection against freezer burn, and the act of unwrapping the bar makes it feel all the more authentic.
Protected by foil wrappers, these DIY Klondike Bars can keep for over a month in the freezer, if tucked inside a zip-top bag. Not that they'll actually last that long—between the super-fluffy ice cream and the snappy chocolate shell, this homemade frozen treat is as irresistible as the original.