The High Life: Ice Cream

As a reminder, “The High Life” is my name for occasional posts on food and drink. While mileage runs and lazy beach vacations are fun, I often travel specifically because I want to enjoy the culinary adventures waiting for me at my destination. Sometimes I’ll write about places I’ve been, and sometimes it will be about what I’m doing at home that recalls past indulgences.

Yesterday and today have seen Seattle’s first snow this winter. I live at the top of a hill further inland, so I get even greater benefit out of this because we get more and it melts slower. Fortunately the ice on the roads has started to melt a bit, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be stuck at home all day. (Darn. I guess I’m going into lab after all.) Still, don’t you understand? I live on a hill!!! PEMCO has some great radio ads here in the Pacific Northwest.

But speaking on the topic of ice, the past week has seen me making a lot of ice cream lately. I love eating ice cream wherever I go on vacation, whether it’s January in New York or July in Rome. Some of my favorite ice cream shops have actually been at the Berlin and Cologne central train stations, although that may be more because I love trains and particularly the Berlin station’s architecture. I’m a sucker for steel beams and glass walls. :)

In the future, I hope to visit Sicily, which was featured in a Wall Street Journal article┬álast July due to its’ residents’ fondness for gelato and the related, water-based granita. Apparently the entire island is an ice cream paradise with high standards of quality. I already knew Italy was the place to go for ice cream, but Sicily is the cream of the crop if you’ll pardon the pun.

When I’m in Seattle, however, my go-to places are Molly Moon and D’Ambrosio. The line at Molly Moon’s is particularly long, and it’s often a fun game to see which way it will go once it heads out the door. (Maybe the other locations are different, but I almost always go to the original in Wallingford.) Their flavors are strong, so usually I stick to something I know I’ll enjoy finishing, like the Vivace Coffee. The last time I tried eating an entire Mojito sorbet, I was getting pretty sick of it by the end. At D’Ambrosio, I opt for the Fig and Caramel duo. It’s also flavorful, but their gelato is more rich and filling.

One of my other great Christmas presents was a copy of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. This former patissier at Chez Panisse has gone on to write an excellent blog on food, and particularly “the sweet life in Paris.” I think that would be even more awesome than being a full-time travel blogger. Personally I didn’t think Chez Panisse was all that impressive when I visited, so I blame his departure. But I digress. His ice cream recipes are delicious and simple, so Megan and I bought a half-gallon each of heavy cream and whole milk and have been mixing up several batches this week.

ice cream ingredients

Last Sunday I made Gianduja gelato, infusing the base with chopped hazelnuts before mixing it with a milk chocolate ganache and adding stracciatella (a ribbon of chocolate that freezes on contact and creates irregular chips when the ice cream is almost finished churning). Hazelnuts are somewhat expensive, so I recommend saving them to top some oatmeal for breakfast.

Gianduja gelato

Later on Wednesday, I used some leftover vanilla beans in my cupboard (we all have those lying around, don’t we ;) ) to make some simple French Vanilla ice cream. Sadly, we were out of Fran’s chocolate sauce, which I swear has a hint of caramel mixed in, but it’s still delicious on its own. Now today Megan is preparing some Mint Stracciatella using real fresh mint leaves for flavoring. I think the plan for our last batch is to let the bananas grow spotty before we try replicating the banana ice cream and chocolate caramel dessert we enjoyed recently at Alexander’s Steakhouse.

Anyway, if you want to make some homemade ice cream on your own, I highly recommend you try. It really isn’t that hard as long as you stick to a few basic rules:

  • Use good ingredients and lots of fat. Whole milk has 3% fat versus 1% fat in skim milk. It makes a difference. Heavy cream also has more fat than light cream. Use egg yolks to make a custard-style base instead of an all-milk recipe. If you don’t have all this fat, you will be left with an icy slush that hardens into a rock. Fat is the lubricant that makes it smooth and creamy.
  • Watch the custard. You need to be very careful to cook the ice cream base enough so that the eggs and cream thicken into a custard, but not so much that the custard starts to curdle. It should be ready right before it starts to simmer, so learn to predict this by watching the amount of steam coming from your pot.
  • Keep your mix cold. Remember that ice cream has a lower freezing point than plain water, so after chilling it in the refrigerator I keep it in the freezer for about 20 minutes before I pour it into the ice cream maker. I use a Cuisinart model I got for $50 after rebate, currently $80. The faster it chills, the more likely the air bubbles that form as it mixes will stay there instead of melting away.

What are your favorite ice cream memories? Are there any top recommendations for getting a good scoop around the world?

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Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Theresa

    Were you ever able to replicate the banana ice cream from Alexander’s steak house?? I have been looking for a recipe.

    • Scottrick

      Not yet, but Megan’s been making some other exciting treats (like peanut butter ice cream). I’ll try to get her to re-attempt the banana.