The opening lines of Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream by Jake Godby, Sean Vahey, and Paolo Lucchesi set the tone for this alternately grating and amusing book: “Hey, bitches, thanks for buying our ice cream book.”
You’re welcome, bitches. Godby and Vahey, who own a San Francisco ice cream shop that opened two years after Bi-Rite and 21 blocks away, seem determined to make you feel like a square, dropping references to trannies, junkies, and George Michael on just about every page. They find strawberry ice cream achingly banal and their recipe, called “Here’s Your Damned Strawberry Ice Cream,” is followed by one variation that incorporates jalapeño peppers, and a second involving Kalamata olives. I went with the olives. The result: super-salty black-flecked ice cream that was neither repulsive nor delicious. The olives seemed more a deliberate defiling of strawberry than a thoughtful enhancement, like declaring one’s individuality by getting a really ugly tattoo. On the neck. The tasting panel was unimpressed. Worse yet, the tasting panel was unshocked. Black olives in strawberry ice cream are just kind of stupid.
But I loved the spirit behind the Humphry Slocombe inventions, and even flipping through the scrapbook-y softcover today I want all those wack recipes (butter beer, mushroom, peanut-butter curry) to work. Alas, the authors are more about bratty attitude than heightening flavor or attending to detail. Humphry Slocombe’s hibiscus beet sorbet: rude essence of beet, simultaneously cloying and earthy. (“It tastes like soil,” said my friend Kate.) Humphry Slocombe’s peanut-butter curry ice cream: Imagine a Thai entree, but sweet, homogenous, and cold. The book’s corn ice cream recipe brought to mind oversalted canned cream corn. A marble-size scoop atop a piece of cornmeal cake at a fussy restaurant would be a clever accent. On a cone? Unwelcome.
I’ve eaten Humphry Slocombe ice cream in the shop, and it’s terrific. But making great ice cream and writing recipes for great ice cream are two very different enterprises. Prepared using their book, even uncontroversial Humphry Slocombe flavors shared a fatal flaw: too much salt. Their very traditional rocky road recipe—like Molly Moon’s, called “Baracky Road”—should have been a no-brainer, but was ruined by oversalting. If you buy this book, you should halve the salt in just about every recipe.
Of the four books I bought, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (the founder of a chain of ice cream parlors in and around Columbus, Ohio) is the prettiest, with shots of ice cream in long-handled silver spoons floating on clean white pages. The book is full of outré flavors, including an homage to pad Thai, but Bauer doesn’t screw around with her strawberry. She roasts the berries to concentrate their flavor and adds buttermilk for tang. The delicate ice cream—fresh and uncomplicated—was the most conventional of all the strawberry ice creams I tried, but easily carried the day with the tasting panel.
This recipe introduced me to my one overriding complaint about the book: Bauer’s method involves pouring hot ice cream base into a plastic bag and then submerging this bulging pouch into an ice water bath. I thought of about 10 different ways this step could end in tears and decided to ignore it. So should you. It turns out, if you simply chill the batter in a bowl, the recipes work perfectly.
Where Humphry Slocombe’s brash beet sorbet repelled, Bauer succeeds with a lovely, crimson beet ice cream. She uses the root as a foundation upon which to layer orange, mascarpone, and poppy seeds, which soften the vegetable’s mineral edge and turn it into a plausible treat. While no one shrieked with delight when they tasted it, no one shrieked in horror, either. In the realm of beet desserts, this counts as victory.
Bauer also successfully incorporates curry into a chocolate-coconut ice cream, the tablespoon of spice adding exotic dimension to an otherwise mundane combination. Her celery ice cream with candied ginger and rum raisins was strange and strangely wonderful, although I was the only one who appreciated its charm. Unlike Humphry Slocombe’s, her flavors are not just inventive; they’re also thoughtful and balanced.
Bauer chose not to call her rocky road “Baracky Road,” maybe because Ohio is a swing state or maybe because a transcendent ice cream doesn’t need a cutesy handle. Or maybe it just didn’t occur to her. Bauer’s Roxbury Road, named for a Columbus thoroughfare, marries chocolate, marshmallows, praline sauce, and smoked almonds to create one of the best ice creams I’ve ever eaten. Salty, rich, crunchy, creamy, sticky, and smoky, every bite is different, every bite is devastating, and once you taste Roxbury you will never want to go back to Rocky. (Or Baracky.) As usual, you can get this recipe on the Internet for free, but it’s worth the price of this wonderful book.