One of the main reasons why I was/still am so in love with my high school sweetheart was that he was as obsessed with ice cream as I am. That 135 pound body of his could devour an enormous sundae with as much gusto as a hot-dog-eating-contest contestant who just scarfed 48 dogs in 12 minutes into his 300 pound body. It was fabulous to have ice cream as much a part of our relationship as it was a part of our individual lives. It still is. Ice cream has been on my mind lately - but then again, when is it not?
I was laying awake this evening thinking about Breyer's "All Natural" Vanilla - which seems to be the entire world's idea of the paragon of ice cream perfection. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the vanilla bean specks that Breyer's markets shamelessly. I have an issue with this ice cream because I am a snob. Vanilla ice cream should not be as white as a Michigan snowdrift. It should be pale ivory or golden ivory, depending on whether it is French vanilla or regular vanilla. Breyer's "All-Natural" is virginal white. With black specks, of course. Creme anglaise is the base for all ice creams. It contains milk, sugar, cornstarch, and (here's the kicker) eggs. The yolk of an egg is yellow, right? So a creme anglaise should be a little bit yellow (a lot yellow if it's French vanilla, since the addition of about 7 egg yolks per gallon of creme would make it much deeper). Breyers is, of course, not hiring thousands of underpaid workers at their packing plant in Nowhere, USA to stand over a hot pot of delicious creme anglaise in preparation to make true vanilla ice cream. But this does account for my distaste for Breyers vanilla, which I feel is too icy and shallow of a taste to be considered real ice cream. It is a good vehicle for toppings though, which I readily will add to the top of any Breyers brand. Vanilla ice cream should be silky, rich, and very vanilla-ey. It shouldn't be vanilla-ey just because there are "bean specks" in the ice cream. I would also like to point out that vanilla beans are DISGUSTINGLY expensive, which means that there's no way in hell Breyers could charge $3.99 and still be making a profit if they used real vanilla beans. Unless they're taking a loss on that just to make up for it with the Heart Healthy sub-brand (which isn't real ice cream, because it tastes like crap) which they charge a hefty $6-7 a half-gallon for.
Alain Ducasse has recently (2002) opened a restaurant in Paris called 'Spoon.' The premise of the restaurant is to bring much more shamelessly modern cuisine to a place where French cooking is considered a religion, and it is very difficult to find fusion cuisine. 'Spoon' is supposed to encourage the French people to learn about the cuisine of other countries, and even try to expand their ideas about their own classic dishes. It's meeting with much resistance, as you can imagine.
Ducasse has, to the chagrin of many, placed Ben and Jerry's ice creams in many of his dessert, marketing them by their names. Ben and Jerry's is almost impossible to get in France. I've tried. When you do get it, it can cost almost $15 a pint - considering the abysmal exchange rate I had to live with for 5 months early in 2005 (it's much better now). There has been so much negative talk about this move by Ducasse, even though Ben and Jerry's is second only to Breyers in sales in the US. Personally, I don't see what the problem is. Ben and Jerry are two hippies from Vermont who use all natural ingredients (except for xanthan gum, I might point out), and who inspire their ice creams from musicians like Dave Matthews Band ("One Sweet Whirled"), The Greatful Dead )("Cherry Garcia"), and of course my favorite, Phish ("Phish Food"). Someone please tell me why I would want to slave over a creme anglaise, add extra ingredients and flavorings, wait for the ice cream maker to warm up/cool down, extract the ice cream (which usually ends up about the same consistency as lightly frozen glue), and then clean the whole damn thing, when I could just pick up a fantastic pint of Chubby Hubby (malt ice cream, fudge swirls, and peanut-butter-filled pretzel bites) and call it good. I just don't understand people sometimes - especially those of the French variety. I think Ducasse is on the right track.
On a recent trip to Panama City Beach, my best friend and I stopped at a "Homemade Ice Cream Parlor." Honestly, the ice cream was mediocre. The flavors were excellent - mint without being too Listerene-ey, chocolate without being too cocoa-ey - but the consistency was just what I mentioned. Lightly frozen glue. But serious props to the old guy behind the counter, who I'm sure has been running the place for the last 400 years. I looked overwhelmed at the menu of 15 flavors when he asked for my order and breathed, "Crap..." The man looked at me and said, "Hm...I'm pretty sure that's the only flavor we don't have." The comment elicited a chuckle from me, but I silently thought, "You don't have Phish Food." I guess I just like xanthan gum in my ice cream.