Amuse-bouche The scoop on ice cream
THE SCOOP ON ICE CREAM
Proust can keep his madeleine. As far as transportational food recollections go, I have homemade vanilla ice cream from a hand-cranked machine. One of my seminal summertime memories involves a churner that ran on ice, rock salt, and a lot of elbow grease. In our family, it was a Fourth of July tradition: My mother stirred together a mixture of sweetened milk and cream and poured it into the metal canister; out on the back patio, in the midsummer heat, uncles, aunts, and cousins took turns cranking the handle and replenishing the ice and salt.
Cooling off with ice cream is a summer ritual that seems as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, but we certainly didn’t invent it. The ancient Greeks reportedly ate snow mixed with honey and fruit, and Alexander the Great is said to have flavored snow and ice with nectar. Roman Emperor Nero dispatched runners to the mountain peaks to retrieve snow, to which he added fruits and juices. Similar chilled delicacies appeared in China around 200 B.C., in ancient Persia, and in 16th-century India.
We’ve come a long way since then — Baskin Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, and Häagen-Dazs are practically household names. Baskin Robbins has three locations in Santa Fe — one in DeVargas Center and two on Cerrillos Road — and from time to time I hear the siren song of their green-tinted mint chocolate chip; Daiquiri Ice, with its fruity chill and faux rum flavor; or more complicated, sophisticated flavors like Jamoca Almond Fudge that in my childhood were left to the adults. Häagen-Dazs (56 E. San Francisco St.) churns out a heavenly caramel-striped Dulce de Leche and a practically perfect coffee, and just last week the company released a limited edition Japonais double matcha condensed milk and brown sugar syrup flavor. The tiny shop on the Plaza is popular with locals and tourists alike — it’s even rumored to be the highest-grossing Häagen-Dazs outpost in the U.S.
You may be someone who prefers the luxurious density and velvety texture of gelato. At Ecco Espresso & Gelato (128 E. Marcy St.), Albuquerque native Matt Durkovich concocts an impressive stable of luscious frozen treats, like the sublime Sicilian pistachio, a Girl Scout-cookie-inspired thin-mint-chocolate, and other intriguing flavors like lavender and pluot.
Xzavian Cookbey “stir fries” ice cream at his Freezie Fresh cart, pouring, spreading, chopping, and freezing a custard base on a super-chilled steel plate before scraping it into coils. The cart isn’t always in the same location, though, so check Facebook or Twitter for Cookbey’s location.
In recent years, the U.S. has seen something of an ice-cream renaissance, with parlors and creameries across the country making bold strides with creative flavors and combinations: Salt & Straw out of Portland, Oregon; Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio; Ample Hills Creamery in New York; and Sweet Action in Denver, to name a few. With its traditional and “uniquely Southwestern” flavors, Taos Cow has been a New Mexico stalwart since 1993, but the new trailblazer is Santa Fe’s La Lecheria (1708 Lena St.), manned by chef Joel Coleman of Fire & Hops fame.
Thoughts of a sweet reward made tolerable our slog down the Lena Street sidewalk in searing midafternoon heat. La Lecheria’s menu of eight flavors consists of four staples — vanilla, chocolate-sea-salt, mint chip, and Iconik coffee — and four rotating flavors — which on the afterwe noon visited were green chile, turmeric coconut, Ceylon cinnamon, and strawberry-ginger sorbet. A flight allows you to sample up to four flavors, easing the decision-making process.
The vanilla is mild and reliable, while the chocopowerfully, late is richly satisfying, the salt adding a real robustness. The ratio in the mint chip seems off — heavy on the chip (morsels rather than chunks or shavings) and light on the mint for my taste. Similarly, while the green chile is intriguing, I longed for more of the compelling vegetal-pepper
In La Lecheria’s Ceylon cinnamon, the pure flavor comes shining through, and the no-foolin’ Iconik coffee is a powerhouse. Combine cinnamon and coffee in one bite for something akin to eating the best cappuccino ever.
flavor or even a touch of heat. In the Ceylon cinnamon, the pure flavor comes shining through, and the no-foolin’ Iconik coffee is a powerhouse (and talk about locally sourced: the roaster is just across the street). Combine cinnamon and coffee in one bite for something akin to eating the best cappuccino ever.
Here’s the one minor snag: The consistency is often icy, at times even crumbly. This might be because Coleman and his staff, in the interest of producing “ice cream with integrity,” eschew stabilizers, preservatives, and “artificial anything.” This could also be attributed to reduced levels of sugar, which bonds with a liquid and lowers its freezing point. More sugar prevents the water in milk and cream from fully freezing, keeping it from developing that crunchiness. All of this I understand thanks to ice-cream nerd (and two-time James Beard Best Pastry Chef award finalist) Dana Cree, whose fascinating new volume Hello, My Name Is Ice
Cream is a comprehensive guide to the science of ice cream. The word “stabilizer,” Cree writes, “has come to suggest anything artificial, used to alter wholesome food into unnatural, fake, processed food, for the purpose of extending its shelf life at the expense of your health so as to maximize profit.” But she goes on to explain that stabilizers are not “poison,” and they are not “cheating.” And they are often common things you have on hand, like cornstarch, pectin, milk powder, and eggs.
This means you can whip up some seriously luscious and professional-caliber ice cream at home. Cree also offers recipes, ranging from a couple of “blank slates” to creative flavors like toasted hay and Parmesan. Hello is merely the most recent in a slew of recent volumes that provide ideas and techniques for home-churning adventurists across the country. Check out David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (2007); Ample Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories From Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop by Brian Smith, Jackie Cuscuna, and Lauren Kaelin (2014); and Food52’s Ice Cream & Friends (2017).
You won’t be stuck cranking a churning handle in the hot summer sun, either. Compact electric ice-cream makers are widely available and affordable. Their one downside is that the cooling-gel-filled bowl must be frozen at least eight hours in advance, a process you must repeat before each batch. (Hand-crank machines, on the other hand, can be refilled endlessly, provided you have enough ice on hand and enough muscle to keep on churnin’.) If you’re serious enough to consider an upgrade, Cuisinart and Breville (among other brands) offer machines with built-in compressors, allowing for back-to-back batches. With a little capital outlay, some research, and a bit of experimentation, pretty soon you could be crowned the emperor — or empress — of ice cream.
Ecco Espresso & Gelato