One Hundred Ways To Ruin Ice Cream
An evaluation of four new artisanal ice cream cookbooks.
Photograph by Merih Unal Ozmen/Thinkstock.
It’s been hot. Time to buy solar panels and make ice cream. But what kind?
Ice cream has gotten a lot more complicated in recent years, thanks to the rise of the artisanal ice cream boutique. If you live in a medium-size to big city, you know what I’m talking about: that trendy-looking new shop with the ever-changing roster of challenging flavors scrawled on a chalkboard and more likely to include “watermelon wheat” or “burnt sweet potato” than cookies ’n’ cream. If there’s vanilla, it is not just “vanilla.” It is “Madagascar vanilla,” or “Ugandan vanilla.” You see relatively few kids in this shop, because a microscopic scoop of salted bourbon sorbet is twice the price of a big, sloppy, cotton-candy cone from Baskin-Robbins.
It was only a matter of time before these boutiques started publishing cookbooks, making the prospect of home-churned ice cream a lot more confusing—and exciting!—than it used to be. Which is how I recently found myself trying to choose among four recently published ice cream books packed with flavors I’d never tasted, let alone made, ranging from the beguiling to the weird. Should I buy the cookbook with a recipe for Guinness-gingerbread ice cream or the one with peach-leaf ice cream? How to decide between the chef who makes ice cream flavored like carrot cake, or the one who takes her inspiration from St. Louis gooey butter cake? Impossible. I bought all four books. But that’s my problem. The question is, do you need any of these books? And, if so, which?
My plan for comparing these titles was initially simple: I would make the strawberry ice cream from each book and draw conclusions with the help of a tasting panel of four adults and four children. You can tell a lot about a book by its strawberry ice cream, my thinking went—as with vanilla these days, there is almost always a telling twist.
Unfortunately, the project quickly took on a life of its own. Once I started, I found it hard to stop churning new flavors. Over the course of two weeks, I ended up making 21 batches of ice cream. As he watched me force beets through a sieve, my husband said, “Now you can call your story ‘One Hundred Ways To Ruin Ice Cream.’ ” He’s a traditionalist who thinks you’ll never do better than coffee ice cream, so why try? I, on the other hand, had high hopes. The ice cream produced by the marathon of stirring, freezing, and beet-sieving proved us both correct.
I started with Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker, founders of the 6-year-old Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. The book, co-written by Dabney Gough, is heavy, handsome, and generously illustrated with photographs of ripe fruit and glossy bricks of Callebaut chocolate. The authors are Alice Waters-style classicists who beat the drum for organic ingredients and look to Europe for inspiration. Because in Italy berries are often paired with balsamic vinegar, Sweet Cream calls for a splash in its strawberry ice cream. “The vinegar is subtle and adds depth to the bright sweetness of the strawberries,” the authors write.
So it did. But apparently depth wasn’t what my tasting panel was looking for in strawberry ice cream. The vinegar didn’t heighten the berry flavor, it interfered with it. No one wanted seconds.
Improbably, though, the book’s peach-leaf ice cream was a big hit. Inspired by a Chez Panisse dessert, the recipe entails steeping peach leaves in cream to extract their intense almond flavor, then churning the cream into a sumptuous frozen custard. It was superb, as was the book’s traditional, rich vanilla ice cream. And yet Sweet Cream quickly dropped out of the competition. Basil ice cream notwithstanding, the recipes aren’t demented enough to distinguish it from estimable works of the past, like The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. You can’t go wrong with this book, but it doesn’t break new ground.
By contrast, Molly Moon Neitzel, founder of the 4-year-old Seattle chain Molly Moon’s, includes plenty of outlandish flavors in Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, as well as a handful of straightforward crowd-pleasers. The slim volume is illustrated with photographs not just of the ingredients, but of the animals that produced them, including a cow and a goat. (Incidentally, Neitzel’s recipe for blueberry goat’s milk frozen yogurt is a keeper.) She favors Philadelphia-style ice cream, which is prepared without eggs. As Moon explains her choice: “[W]e are not only emphasizing the unadulterated, fresh, sweet cream taste of the local dairy we use, but also sourcing from one less animal and using fewer resources.” Very noble. Very Seattle. Sadly, when tasted against custard-based ice creams, Molly Moon’s were decidedly grainy. Baracky Road, Neitzel’s twist on rocky road (she uses hazelnuts instead of walnuts), was delicious, but gritty in texture. Her cheese ice cream had the same textural problem (among others). The ice cream was strewn with curdlike bits of grated cheddar. This may have been the most repulsive ice cream I have ever made. Or was it? There was stiff competition.
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.”