True story: I probably wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Mister Softee. I’m not going to elaborate on that at this time, because I think even first-person columnists deserve a little mystery, but now that I have your attention, allow me to say that Little Baby’s Ice Cream is the best thing to happen to sweets in this town since Tastykakes.
So, craving some dessert smarts after all these healthy meals I’ve been trying, I turned to Little Baby’s cofounder and production manager, Martin Brown, in search of some cold, creamy, homemade relief. Not surprising given their array of unique flavors, our final creation(s) was anything bland: bourbon vanilla ice cream covered in three types of “crazy sizurp” and two different “forked-up baby bananas” on the side.
Presumably unaware that I was already a big fan of his work, upon arriving at Little Baby’s wonderfully wacky “world headquarters” in East Kensington, Martin had me sample several of their flavors while I pretended as though they were new to me. Best. Breakfast. Ever.
Although Martin now uses a $25,000 machine to make Philadelphia-style ice cream (egg-free, custard based), he opted to show me the recipe for the French style he first started making at home with his handy-dandy two quart Cuisinart ice cream machine. A similar one will run about $40-$60, but if you already own a stand mixer, likely all you need is a separate attachment. Either way, it’s worth the investment when you consider the cost of ice cream. Even better: You can finally have the ice cream of your wildest dreams!
When devising your own flavorings, Martin stresses that you need to be mindful of how certain additives are going to affect the freezing process. For example, sugars and alcohol deter freezing, so the more you add, the softer your ice cream is going to be. Meanwhile, acids and watery fruits should be handled delicately and in small amounts. Some specific ingredients he recommends experimenting with: coffee, tea, grape nuts, cinnamon, peanut butter, nutmeg, cardamom and berries.
If you’re thinking a machine is going to speed up the process, though, think again. After you’ve boiled your custard base, the batch needs to cool in the fridge for two to three hours or, more ideally, overnight. Once ready to be whipped, that’s about another 20 minutes, plus however long you might need to prepare/mix your desired flavoring/toppings. Finally, unless you want soft serve, the ice cream needs to sit in your freezer for 24 hours to achieve the ideal consistency.
In other words, you’re looking at a 48-hour project, which is about 47 and a half hours longer than I’d normally spend preparing any dish of any kind. I told Martin that while I didn’t bring a tent, I’d be more than happy to camp out overnight in the shop, but he assured me that wasn’t necessary. Dammit! (Can’t blame a gal for trying.)
Waiting for the ice cream to do its thing, we had plenty of time to craft our exotic toppings. First, having randomly picked up a bushel of baby bananas at an Asian supermarket that morning, Martin searched the store for things to cover them in and returned with coconut sugar and a handful of Lemonheads. It turns out, when you bake a baby banana covered in crushed Lemonheads, you get a mushier version of a Lemonhead and when you bake them in coconut sugar, you wind up with a mini plantain. Go figure.
With the baby banana mystery now solved, we moved on to our different syrup mixtures: chocolate and pomegranate molasses; honey and lime juice; cayenne power and chocolate. My personal favorite was the heavenly blend of honey and lemon juice. I didn’t, however, share Martin’s appreciation for the tart kick of the pomegranate molasses, which we accidently microwaved with the chocolate, thus creating more of a candy coating than a syrup. As for our bourbon vanilla ice cream, it was like buttah. Probably could have used more bourbon, though.
I’m not sure whether it was Martin’s adorable smile or the copious amounts of ice cream and “crazy sizurp” that he fed me, but I left the shop feeling like a giddy schoolgirl. Giddy enough, in fact, to start pondering the possible side effects of eating that much Little Baby’s ice cream. What if instead of black spots, you start seeing neon squiggly lines? Or instead of a ringing in your ears, you hear “Pop Goes The Weasel?” Most frightening of all, what if you start having night terrors involving Malcolm, the androgynous ice cream creature from their promotional videos?
Ahem. Eventually I came down from my sugar high and started focusing on where I was walking.
Find this week’s ice cream recipes, plus all the other dishes Nicole has learned from Philly chefs so far, online at forkingstupid.com.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014