What's next in ice-cream fads, after mix-ins and Oreos and walk-away sundaes? How about a gourmet sugar cone dipped in chocolate and rolled in, say, crushed peanut butter cups?
The "flavored" cone has been a best seller at Emack and Bolio's in Cambridge, Mass., since its debut in the fall, according to manager David Malekpour, who takes credit for developing the confection.
The chocolate-coated cones rolled in crumbled Reese's peanut butter cups and Heath bars were the first of the flavored cones to be offered at Emack and Bolio's. They sell for 75 cents each and if you also want a scoop of ice cream in your cone, that'll be an additional $1.10.
Then there's a chocolate-walnut cone, for 85 cents, and a chocolate-coconut cone, at 50 cents. In between are the chocolate-dipped toasted coconut cone and, for those who like their chocolate straight up, a cone dipped in plain, rich dark chocolate.
The cones themselves are the store's regular "gourmet" sugar cones imported from Denmark. They look like hand-rolled waffle cones and are about twice the size of your basic dark sugar cone. They are dipped in the chocolate mixtures to about halfway down, leaving room to grasp the cone, then chilled, minimizing the threat of getting a gooey mess on your fingers.
"They've increased our business," said Malekpour, noting that there are 11 ice-cream stores in Harvard Square, including Steve's, Brigham's, Bailey's and the new Ben and Jerry's, as well as Emack and Bolio's. "It makes us stand out in a crowd."
There are 20 Emack and Bolio's ice-cream parlors on the East Coast, most of them in Massachusetts and New England, with a few stray branches in North and South Carolina and New Jersey, Malekpour said. The company hopes to open a parlor in New York next year.
Emack and Bolio's first experiment with flavored cones bit the dust at an early stage, Malekpour said. The original idea was to dip cones in chocolate that was spiked with flavorings such as amaretto liqueur. But the liqueur changed the consistency of the chocolate and the topping wouldn't hold on the cones.
"One day I thought, 'Hmm, why not add something to the cone,' " Malekpour, 22, said in a recent interview at the store. From that came the idea to roll the cones themselves in the crushed candy and nuts that are popularly used as a topping on the ice cream.
Malekpour doesn't want to give away too many trade secrets by discussing how the correct consistency is obtained, since he claims the flavored cone is an Emack and Bolio's exclusive, but the dipping is done in a crockpot that sits on the counter.
So far, the most popular flavored cone is the one rolled in crushed Heath bars, which are a mix of chocolate and toffee. The all-time Emack and Bolio favorite, however, remains a scoop of Oreo ice cream in an ungarnished cone, Malekpour said.
Based on its success to date, Emack and Bolio's plans to expand its menu of flavored cones. Currently on the drawing boards are plans for a chocolate-dipped cone rolled in crushed hazelnuts and another smothered in Rice Krispies, which would be the ice-cream equivalent of a Nestle' Crunch bar.
"Ice cream is ice cream," Malekpour said. But scooping it into a flavored cone, he said, "makes it a gourmet experience."