How Big Ice Cream Makes $$$ and the Magic Formula for Ice Cream Production
A super thorough recap of last week’s MSG lectures on Ice Cream. So incredibly thorough!
This recent WSJ article (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443570904577547231942958966.html?mod=djemITP_h&fb_source=message) shocked me since I would never consider Yorkville or anywhere east of 2nd avenue as a good alternative to Brooklyn, but the hype over Williamsburg is nuts! Despite my indifference (scorn???) towards w’burg, I found myself at Public Assembly last week attending a talk on the history of ice cream hosted by Masters of Social Gastronomy.
I actually took a cocktail bitters class with one of the presenters, Sarah Lohman, whose blog (Four Pounds Floor) I totally love. She started off the evening with a witty and informative “which came first” session that covered the history of ice cream. Apart from making the “duh!” connection that snow was the first prototype for ice cream, I learned that sorbet came before sherbet since dairy wasn’t added to “ice cream” until about the 1930s. In fact, sherbet’s popularity didn’t really soar in America until Howard Johnson (the hotel chain) started offering orange sherbets at their locations in the 1950s as mentioned in an episode of this season’s Mad Men.
In terms of flavors, chocolate was first on the scene since it took people 70 years to figure out how to grow vanilla pods outside of Mexico due to the lack of bees that were needed to pollinate the flowers. I was intrigued to learn as well that whale puke was a flavoring back in the day as was a vinegar like flavoring called verjus.
Other intriguing nuggets: the sandwich v. the cone question has never really been settled, but ice cream sandwiches actually were invented because of the unhygienic quality of take-away ice cream. Back then, people would gather around peddler and take licks out of cups, so a clever entrepreneur decided to make blocks of ice cream that could be sliced up and handed out. This brings us to the question of neapolitan or nitrogen ice cream. While the neapolitan idea most logically wins since it essentially mimics the ice cream sandwich idea, it does so by a tiny margin of years. If I heard correctly, neapolitan ice cream dates back to 1865 in Naples, Italy (it was colored to resemble Italy’s flag) and the first use of nitrogen can be traced to 1901. Of course, it wasn’t till the 1980s that nitrogen ice cream really took off in the form of Dippin Dots (the now bankrupt company).
The rest of the evening was spent discussing the production of ice cream. Coconut milk is apparently good for making ice cream because of its fat to solid ration. To make ice cream, the magical formula is 2 cups of cream to 1 cup milk to 1/2 a cup of sugar. There are 5 ways to get flavoring in your ice cream: 1) steep ingredients in cream (flowers, spices, etc.), 2) mix bite-size products in during the last 5 minutes before the ice cream is done (basically sprinkle in ingredients when transferring from the ice cream machine to a dish), 3) pour extracts into the batter before freezing, 4) zest peels/rinds and incorporate into the batter, 5) sprinkle powder into the batter. If alcohol is added, the experts advised 3 tablespoons of liquor per batch.
Jonathan Soma, the other presenter of the evening, regaled us with tales of failed ice cream flavors including pork bun ice cream (green onion, pork floss, and mayonnaise steeped in cream), and chicken wing ice cream (aside from the usual suspect of bbq sauce, he mixed in blue cheese crumbles!). He ended his portion of the presentation with the admonition to avoid taking risks with ice cream.
Lastly, I learned that ice cream is measured by volume, not weight. This leads regular ice cream makers to blow air into their ice cream, a move that clearly decreases how much ice cream you’re actually paying for. To legally be called ice cream, the minimum requirements are 10% butterfat and less than 50% air. Super premium ice cream will typically have more than 16% butterfat and less than 50% overrun (the ratio of air to the relative volume of the ice cream mix), making its texture rich, dense, and flavorful. I actually experienced this phenomenon last night when I brought home a tub of Breyer’s cherry vanilla ice cream. It was very light and pretty much melted as soon as it hit my tongue, something that would never happen at say, Ample Hill, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Van Leeuwen, or Blue Marble (my favorite Brooklyn ice cream stores - also consistently in the top 10 lists of ice cream purveyors in NYC).
I’ll be back in Williamsburg on Wednesday to attend a “buying in Brooklyn” presentation. This year really has seen me frequent this neighborhood often - while I may scoff at the rent situation, I do appreciate the events that are held here!