Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Jun 17, 2012
08:44 AM
Small Dishes

Ice Cream vs. Frozen Custard

Ice Cream vs. Frozen Custard

They can be one and the same, and then again, not.  Most ice cream made in this country is of two types depending upon the ingredients.  One is sometimes referred to as Philadelphia-style, made with cream, milk, sugar and flavorings.  The other as French-style, eggs added to the cream, milk and sugar and the mixture cooked to form a custard.

From its inception in the 10th century ice cream has evolved from a delicacy to what we take for granted today.  A big advance was made by Nancy Johnson who invented the hand-crank freezer in 1843.  She sold the idea to William Young for $200 who patented and manufactured her invention as the “Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer.”  It consisted of an outer wooden bucket with a metal cylinder to contain the ice cream ingredients.  After filling the cylinder, a dasher was inserted and then ice and salt—the salt produces a colder temperature—packed around it.  A crank fitted to the top had to be turned continuously until the ice cream froze—about half an hour. The reward for all the hard labor was a heretofore unequalled smooth ice cream. It also meant that a culinary curiosity was now something almost anyone could enjoy and did.

 Obviously, electricity changed everything.  It made possible the mass production of ice cream and freezers to keep it in.  Even the hand-crank freezer used at home got a makeover with a motor added to the top.  As we all know, with technology one thing tends to lead to another and the race was on to build a better ice cream maker.

In 1914 two brothers decided to take ice cream on the road. The Kohr brother disassembled a commercial ice cream maker, tinkered around with it, reassembled it on a truck and began selling their original recipe ice cream door to door.  It was so popular, they decided to set up a stand at Coney Island and frozen custard was born.

The same type of machine is now used to make what is often called soft serve ice cream—like they make at Dairy Queen.  Unlike frozen custard which must contain at least 10% percent butterfat and 1.4% egg yolks, soft serve is about 5% percent butterfat and contains no eggs.

Whatever it’s called, the amount of air incorporated into the product during production—called “overrun”—greatly affects its character and taste.  It’s the overrun—about 20%—that allows frozen custard and soft serve ice cream to stand up without drooping yet have their distinctive smoothness.

Less overrun increases density and creaminess.  Store-brand ice cream usually has the least butterfat—as little as 10%—and more air—the overrun can be up to 100%, the maximum allowed.  Premium ice has more butterfat and less air.  Ben & Jerry’s for example has about 16% butterfat and 24% overrun. Since ice cream is sold by volume and not weight, you should actually be able to feel the difference by comparing their heft.

Of course there are a whole slew of other frozen confections.  Sherbet is fruit flavored and contains 1-2% butterfat.  Sorbet is a similar product, but made without milk or cream.  Ice milk is the same as ice cream but only has 3.5% butterfat. Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream and the term is loosely applied to a variety of products sold here with 3-8% butterfat.  In Italy it’s served at a warmer temperature than ice cream; in a cup, not on a cone.

In Wisconsin we consume over 2 million gallons of all types of the frozen stuff each year. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of places to enjoy this treat—out or at home—but here’s my scoop on a few favorites.

Calliope Ice Cream.  Jason Bormann, a cook at Weary Traveler, started playing around with ice cream and playful the result is. He concocts ice cream for adults with unique flavors such as smoked apple pie, Campari and grapefruit and hot peanut butter. It’s guaranteed to chill out the most manic palate.  For now, it’s available in half pints only at Weary Traveler and Ian’s Pizza on State Street, but watch out! 

Nostrano. Think ice cream and assuredly this is not the first place to come to mind.  Nonetheless, dessert at Nostrano always features some very sophisticated and delicious—call them what you will--sundaes.  Take for example the Affogato—caramel gelato, sea salt and espresso with a little Italian donut.    And if that doesn’t convince you, how about the Copetta—stracciatella gelato (vanilla with chocolate shavings), banana pudding and butterscotch with a graham waffle wafer.

Michael’s Frozen Custard.  Michael Dix brought frozen custard to Madison in a big way.  He opened his original custard stand on Monroe Street in 1986—which was an instant success—and today has four locations and sells packed pints at many area grocers. Michael’s latest innovation is K9 custard: a low-carb, no-sugar treat made just for dogs.

Babcock Dairy Hall. Talk to anyone who has spent any time at the UW-Madison and Babcock and sooner or later is bound to come up. It’s been wooing students, faculty and townies with its made-on-campus ice cream since 1951. In addition to a dozen standard flavors, it offers four featured flavors and three super premium flavors that change regularly.  Beside at the dairy store, Memorial Union and Union South, you can pick up pints at Metcalfe’s Market and Capitol Centre Foods.

Sassy Cow Creamery.  Since starting up in 2008, this local farmstead dairy has taken Madison by storm.   When it decided to add ice cream to the product line, its goal was to make a premium brand that was still affordable.  Made in small batches, Sassy Cow now offers 34 flavors plus a new “flavor of the month” each month.  The dairy store in Columbus sells ice cream cones, dishes, milkshakes and cakes.  Many markets sell quarts of Sassy Cow ice cream and larger sizes are available at the dairy store.

Kopp’s Frozen Custard. In Wisconsin, Kopp’s is the king of frozen custard.  Since 1950, what has set it apart is everything here—from the butterfat-rich custard to the huge array of topping— is made from quality ingredients.  The sundaes are so elaborate Kopp’s has diagrams to let you sort out their ingredients and construction. There are three locations in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. 

Wilson’s. A trip to Door County would be incomplete without a stop at Wilson’s in Ephraim, an ice cream parlor that opened in 1906.  Over the years much about the place has changed to be sure, but Wilson’s has managed to retain its old fashioned feel. The menu has expanded, too, but it’s still the cones and sundaes that attract lines each summer night.  The specialty of the house is the Wilson’s Banquet:  your choice of five flavors of ice cream and three toppings topped with a whole lot of whipped cream, cherries and pecans.

Roasted Pineapple Ice Cream

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes

1-1/3 cups granulated sugar

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

4 tablespoons dark Jamaican rum

8 large egg yolks

Preheat oven 200 degrees.

Place pineapple in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silpat. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar and bake, checking every 30 minutes, for 2 hours.  Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan brink 1 cup heavy cream, milk and rum to a gentle boil.  Add pineapple and remove from heat.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk beat the egg yolks and remaining cup of sugar until pale and thick (about 2 minutes).

Return saucepan with the cream mixture to medium heat and bring just to the boil.  Whisking constantly add about ½ cup of the hot cream mixture to the beaten egg yolks. By hand, whisk the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and return to moderately high heat.  Cook, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens (about 3 minutes)).  Transfer to a bowl; cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap.  Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until thoroughly cold (several hours or overnight). 

Whip the remaining cup of cream until it form soft peaks.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the cold custard.  Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes about 1½ quarts.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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