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Ice Cream... Cohen?

Marissa Wojcik

May 25, 2023

The history of a sweet treat!

Originally published in Jewish Chicago: The JUF Magazine

We've all had those days… You run around like crazy all day at the office, you get home, put on your pajamas, and instead of eating dinner, you open your freezer and grab a pint of your favorite ice cream.

But, whether it was Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's or Baskin Robbins, you are also connecting with your Jewish heritage.

…Because all three of these brands were started by Jewish men who were pioneers of ice cream!

Häagen-Dazs does not sound like a very Jewish name… But the brand was founded by a Polish Jewish immigrant to America named Reuben Mattus.

He began working in his uncle's Italian-ice shop in the 1920's in Brooklyn, soon helping to expand the business into selling ice cream as well as crafting the ice cream himself. He studied the science of ice cream, and crafted a "luxury" brand of the frozen treat that he marketed towards the upper class of New York. With this rebrand, he changed the name of the company, knowing that people may not buy the ice cream if it was associated with a Jewish name.

How did he get to the name Häagen-Dazs? "The only country which saved the Jews during World War II was Denmark," he told chef Joan Nathan, when she interviewed him for Tablet magazine, "so I put together a totally fictitious Danish name and had it registered." He began to sell the pints for 75 cents.

Baskin Robbins began just after WWII in Glendale, California. The founder, Irv Robbins-- a Canadian who served in the US Navy-- taught himself to make ice cream and, used his bar mitzvah money to open a shop to sell it.

Just a few years later, Irv's brother-in-law, Bert Baskin opened a competing ice cream shop. Instead of letting this "cold war" tear the family apart, they merged into the beloved chain we know today as Baskin-Robbins. 50 years later, Baskin-Robbins merged with the doughnut chain Dunkin' Donuts, also started by a Jewish man, Bill Rosenberg.

Then came Ben & Jerry's, founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, both Jewish. After visiting an ice cream shop in Massachusetts that dared to offer flavors such as "chocolate pudding" and "peanut butter" and even added mix-ins to each order, they started their own shop in Burlington, Vermont.

Theirs quickly became beloved by locals for the eclectic flavors and chunky mix-ins and quickly grew into the household name that it is today.

The company lost a lot of fans when it restricted its sales to Israelis, sparking a legal battle with its parent company, Unilever.  

The next time that you enjoy a pint of your favorite ice cream, whether it be with your family at a picnic, or on your couch after a tough day, you can take comfort in the fact that this incredibly comforting food would not exist in the way we know it today, without some Jewish people, well, churning it out!

Pretty good for a people who are prone to lactose intolerance!

This summer take a slice of your favorite babka--another sweet treat with Jewish roots--scoop some ice cream on top of it, place another piece of babka on top, and smoosh down! Enjoy,and be sure to grab extra napkins! If you don't have your own go-to babka recipe, try mine below!

Chocolate Babka 


½ cup milk, warmed

2½ teaspoons instant yeast

1 egg

1 egg yolk

½ cup sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

2 cups flour

7 tablespoons butter at room temperature


½ cup cocoa powder

⅓ cup dark brown sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp kosher salt

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 egg white


Whisk egg, egg yolk, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until smooth and slightly pale in color.

Whisk in warmed milk and yeast until combined.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix in the flour until almost fully mixed. Add butter (make sure it's at room temperature!) and mix until incorporated. The dough should be smooth and slightly sticky.

Turn out the dough and knead for just a few minutes until very smooth. Transfer to a greased bowl and let rise for 1½ - 2 hours until doubled.

Prepare the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl. Mix until combined.

Once the dough is done proving, place on a floured surface and roll into a large rectangle. The dough should be as thin as you can get it. This ensures the most swirls inside the bread.

Using an offset spatula, spread the filling over the dough in a thin layer. Sprinkle the marshmallows over the filling.

Starting on the edge closest to you, begin to tightly roll the dough away from you, and have a "log" of dough. Pinch the ends together to ensure no filling leaks out while baking.

Using a serrated knife, slice the babka down the middle to create two strands. Twist the strands together and pinch at the ends.

Now comes the tricky part! Bend the twisted babka in the middle so that it is even on both sides. Twist those sides together just as you did with the initial two strands.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the twisted babka in a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Allow to rise for another half an hour.

Bake for 50-55 minutes.

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