I don’t enjoy ice cream the way you enjoy ice cream; let’s just get that out of the way.
I suppose there was a time in my life when I could sit down and eat an entire pint or two of Ben & Jerry’s without feeling like my body wanted to kill me afterwards purely out of spite. Or, that the mere whisper of a hint, the shadow of a promise of a scoop of Pralines ‘n Cream in my future would be a seductive bribe, the same way I currently use it against my kids. Fast forward to now, where just the thought of eating that much frozen sugar milk invokes a deep and premature sense of self-loathing that follows most binges of wanton overindulgence
But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the stuff. I do. I mean, really, who doesn’t LOVE ice cream? If someone is actually sitting out there, reading this and thinking “I don’t know what he’s talking about. Ice cream is the worst,” I don’t think I’d have to go out on such a far limb to say such a person doesn’t have a soul. Sure, that may be a harsh generalization, but I think it’s pretty near accurate.
The reason I love ice cream, though, is for its magical balance of texture and temperature. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think back to the last time you were digging through your freezer, perhaps looking desperately for something to beat the summer heat, and you found an old, crystallized pint of some low-level, generic supermarket brand stuff. You may have forced yourself to eat it, forgetting what real ice cream is supposed to taste like, but there’s only so much self-delusion we can take before giving in to reality. Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between that, and say, a fresh scoop of Ben & Jerry’s? Did you even know there’s such a thing as “stale” ice cream?
Without quoting entire pages from Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” let me just briefly say that the major factors responsible for your enjoyment of a scoop of ice cream are the size of the ice crystals that formed during freezing (and thawing and refreezing), and how much fat is in that pint. When you get a product that is smooth (i.e. frozen quickly to prevent large ice crystals from forming) and creamy (good ice cream was not meant to be low-fat,) your tongue is happy. There are, of course, many other factors, but these two are among the most important, and relevant to the following recipe.
Sadly, I do not own a Dewar capable of storing liquid Nitrogen safely and securely. Those things are big and expensive to maintain, and more importantly, the powers that be have forbidden me from making any more kitchen equipment purchases until there is some more room in our kitchen. So no making liquid nitrogen ice cream for me. Thankfully, though, the geniuses over at ChefSteps.com (have you been there yet? No??? Why not?!) posted a technique for making ice cream using dry ice instead. Which is kind of embarrassing for me, because I had been using dry ice to make ice cream before, but instead of crushing it to a powder and mixing it in with my base like a smart person would do, I would stuff a block of it in the canister of my ice cream maker to get it colder than my wimpy freezer would allow, and then use that canister to make ice cream, provided that the base didn’t immediately freeze to the walls and ruin the dinky plastic churn that came with the machine. But why all the trouble with dry ice or liquid nitrogen? Because they’re COLD! And the faster you can freeze up your ice cream, the smaller those pesky ice crystals will be. And, most importantly, because my kids think it’s awesome and fun, and that I’m the coolest dad in the world. Oh, and did I mention that it’s super easy and quick?
I made two Modernist Cuisine/ChefSteps recipes. Strawberry Angostura sorbet, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Gelato (non-dairy, and no egg required). For those not familiar with alcoholism, Angostura is a type of bitters, or alcohol based infusions of herbs and spices that make many drinks taste better. It can be found in the drink mix section of your local supermarket. Here are the other ingredients:
The malic acid provides a counterbalance to the sweetness of the strawberries (and, according to Chris Young, has also been scientifically proven to heighten our enjoyment of fruits). I also used honey powder instead of regular table sugar, as the recipe calls for fructose powder (table sugar is sucrose) which I was out of at the time. Guess what, though? If you don’t think it’s worth making an order at ModernistPantry.com, you can achieve a similar effect by substituting lemon juice for the acid, and sugar or honey for the fructose. Any special cooking techniques needed? Nope! Just toss in a blender–
strain directly into your mixing bowl–
and mix on medium high, while adding spoonfuls of dry ice at regular intervals.
Disclaimer: DRY ICE IS VERY COLD! IT WILL CAUSE SEVERE BURNS IF YOU ARE NOT CAREFUL, AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED IN A WELL VENTILATED ROOM. Do not serve your ice cream if there are still visible chunks of dry ice in it, and make sure to grind up the dry ice into a fine powder before adding, using either a blender or food processor.
After about two minutes, this is what your finished product will look like–
Not the greatest picture, but definitely the smoothest, tastiest sorbet I have ever eaten.
As for the Peanut Butter and Jelly gelato, it’s amazing what can be done to food these days with a little Walter White level understanding of food-science.
In this recipe, the fat of the cream and eggs has been replaced with more fat from the peanut butter and roasted peanut oil, and the slightly chewy texture traditional to gelato is replicated with some tapioca starch and a bit of Xanthan gum (both available at your local Whole Foods).
The tapioca, xanthan and a little sugar get blended together–
and heated while stirring until they reach the thick consistency of a custard.
Meanwhile, the peanut butter and roasted peanut oil are blended together–
and finally, all ingredients are mixed together,
and frozen just like the sorbet.
(The finished product, from ModernistCuisine.com)
The kids especially love this one, because it tastes just like you’d think an ice cream version of the middle of your PB&J sandwich would. There’s no additional flavor to dilute the main stars, and the texture is just as rich and creamy as you’d expect a full-fat, dairy version to be.
One thing I will not share with you in this post, are the actual recipes. If you are feeling adventurous enough to try making some of your own, I wholeheartedly encourage you to visit ChefSteps.com, where you will find amazing recipes, videos, and forums all dedicated to educating whomever may be interested in learning more about Modernist Cuisine, and all for free! Good food doesn’t have to be super fancy. But to make the best tasting food, often in the easiest, most foolproof manner, you can’t go wrong using the modern techniques and attention to detail they encourage. Check it out, and don’t be afraid to jump in and try something yourself!
Enjoy the rest of your summer!