We love wine. We love ice cream. So what do you get when you mix a cocktail party with an ice cream social? All the enjoyment of a fine glass of wine combined with the satisfaction that is expected from one of the world’s most popular comfort foods (ice cream). What we are essentially left with is the ultimate comfort food.
There are a couple of ways in which we are able to enjoy this anomalous pairing:
1. A pint of wine ice cream made with 15% butterfat that also happens to contain 5% alcohol by volume.
2. A pint of ice cream in one hand, a glass of wine in the other.
Wine Ice Cream
Hold the phone, wine ice cream? Sounds crazy right? That’s because many of us were taught that wine and milk don’t mingle well together. We are also taught that alcohol doesn’t freeze at the same temperature as milk, cream, and water, which is why the idea of mixing it with a dairy product like ice cream seems so absurd. Yet, despite what you may have been told, wine ice cream has already been on the market for the last 7 years (I’ll forgive you if you just grabbed your car keys and ran out the door). In June of 2007, Mercer’s Dairy debuted wine ice cream at the Great American Dessert Expo, which them Best New Product in the “Small Bites, Big Taste” competition.
So how’d they do it? If alcohol’s freezing point is considerably lower than that of dairy’s, then how did they get the wine in the ice cream to freeze?
In order to gain a better understanding on the subject; let’s examine some of the science behind it.
The Relevance of Freezing Points & Freezing Point Depression in the Production of Ice Cream
The average temperature of most home freezers is around -17 ° C or 1.4 ° F
Ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, including wine)
Freezing point of -114 ° C or 173.2° F
Freezes at 0°C or 32 ° F depending on atmospheric pressure and salinity
The average cow’s milk will free at about -0.5400° C or 31.028° F
Strictly speaking, cream doesn’t have a single freezing point, as it is a suspension of fats in water. Cream will, however, form ice cream at temperatures below 0° C when it becomes a mixture of fats and ice crystals
Stop to really observe its structure and you’ll soon find that ice cream’s composition is both complex and multi-faceted. You expect it to be solid (and would probably prefer it be as such to slow down the melting process), even though it is usually soft. A good example of this would be what happens when you merely put a batch of cream in the freezer. The end result is that you fail to make ice cream, but would instead end up with a hard-frozen block of solid cream. The real answers we want are found within ice cream’s chemical structure.
Today’s ice cream has the following composition:
- Greater than 10% milk fat by legal definition, and usually between 10% and as high as 16% fat in some premium ice creams
- Between 9 and 12% milk solids-not-fat, the component of which contains the proteins (caseins and whey proteins) and carbohydrates (lactose) found in milk
- 12%-16% sweeteners, usually a combination of sucrose and glucose –based corn syrup sweeteners
- 2% to 0.5% added stabilizers and emulsifiers
The ingredients used to supply this composition include:
- A concentrated source of the milk fat, typically cream or butter
- A concentrated source of the milk solids-not-fat component, usually evaporated milk or milk powder
- Sugars including sucrose and “glucose solids”, a product derived from the partial hydrolysis of the corn starch component in corn syrup
Next I think we should cover freezing point depression and the significance of salt in the production of great ice cream. Just like when we throw salt down on icy roads throughout winter, salt mixed with ice in the case of ice cream, also causes the ice to melt. Anytime salt comes into contact with ice, the freezing point of the ice is lowered. The lowering of the freezing point depends on the amount of salt added. The more salt that is added, the lower the temperature will be before the salt-water solution freezes. For example, water normally freezes at 32° F. A 10% salt solution freezes at 20° F, and a 20% solution freezes at 2° F. So this explains why when we throw salt down during the winter months, the combination of salt and snow or ice has a melting effect. Some of the snow and ice melts because its freezing point is lowered. It is also important to remember that the ice, in order for it to melt, must absorb heat. The heat that is responsible for the melting in ice cream comes from the warmer cream mixture. Lowering the freezing point of the ice allows us to create the necessary environment for the cream mixture to freeze and become ice cream at temperatures below the normal 32° F.
Molecular Gastronomy’s Role in Understanding the Physical & Chemical Aspects of Ice Cream
Molecular Gastronomy, a sub-discipline of food science that seeks to investigate the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking, has become increasingly popular in recent times. It blends technical food science and practical kitchen techniques, and has been offered to patrons at some of the most exclusive fine-dining establishments in the world for more than two decades now. These days, however, those scientific cooking methods are beginning to slowly make their way into the more common fast-casual and quick-service arenas.
Comprehending the physical and chemical aspects that turn our ingredients into ice cream not only gives us a better understanding and general knowledge of the world around us, but also comes with the added benefit of giving us something to discuss over our next hot fudge sundae! Additionally, knowing and understanding these aspects also allows us to be more mindful of what goes into the things we consume. It allows us to be more effective in our food preparation, and drastically increases the amount of success we have in the kitchen.
I will admit that many of Molecular Gastronomy’s culinary creations look a bit out of this world. I’ve seen it render some pretty wild things, such as:
Many have been shocked and impressed after witnessing liquid nitrogen being used in molecular gastronomy demonstrations. The instant vapor cloud that results from the condensation of ambient air has a tendency to leave spectators in a state of awe. But shock factor aside, there are other practical reasons why this technique has begun to increase in popularity in recent times. Because of liquid nitrogen’s ability to rapidly cool preparations, it significantly outperforms the classic freezing method discussed earlier. Freezing at -4° F (-20° C) causes water to form into increasingly larger crystals and alters the final product’s initial structure. As a result, frozen products oftentimes lose a lot of their water and soften. The nitrogen causes a rapid and drastic change in temperature, which ensures the formation of much smaller ice crystals that leave the resulting product’s cell structure completely intact.
In the culinary world, liquid nitrogen is used as a coolant. It is important to make light of the fact that it is not an ingredient, and should under no circumstances ever be ingested. What it does is cool the food and then evaporates completely. Only after the nitrogen has fully evaporated is the food safe to eat. Consumers must also take care when eating foods that have been cooled using this methodology. Similar to how you would allow a fresh, home cooked meal that’s just come off the stovetop to cool prior to consumption, so to must you allow anything that has been cooled using liquid nitrogen time to warm up, as it is extremely cold after being exposed to a cryogenic substance.
Many have also begun to see the benefit of harnessing liquid nitrogen’s cooling properties to make extremely smooth ice cream. The small ice crystals we mentioned above are responsible for the creaminess of the ice cream. The substance makes it possible to also freeze alcohol to make cocktails, or in this case, ice cream! I have heard it referred to as the “five minute method”, which is described as the best way to make some of the world’s most amazing ice cream without any cranking, or ice, or rock salt, and without the use of an electric ice cream maker.
Another reason surrounding the rise of molecular gastronomy amongst ice cream aficionados could be simply because the actual procedure and steps that go into the making of liquid nitrogen ice cream are extremely simple. Also, in addition to it being very useful for freezing foods, the substance is also odorless, colorless, and tasteless. But more importantly, liquid nitrogen has been hailed the secret to really creamy ice cream, which again can be attributed to its ability to rapidly freeze the cream mixture. It causes the fat and the water particles to stay very small, giving the ice cream its rich, creamy consistency. The aim is to avoid ice crystals, much like what you get when you make ice milk. Food science experts say that rapid freezing preserves the nutrients found in food. We find evidence of this when we observe a quick-frozen vegetable that is three months old. It will likely still have a nutrient composition closer to harvest levels than a five-day old fresh vegetable. The faster you freeze, the less you destroy tissue structures.
Without Further Ado, I Present to You: The Good Stuff
All right. Now we can move on to the real reason behind this post. If you’re someone with a killer sweet tooth looking for a little more kick in your sugary binge fests, then this might be just what you’ve been looking for.
The Double Fisted Approach
First up we will cover some of the best wines to pair with a few of the individual flavors offered by a certain special Vermont-based ice cream maker we all know and love (I know I do!): Ben & Jerry’s. A general rule of thumb when pairing wine with any dessert is that the wine you choose should be sweeter than the dessert itself. Since ice cream tends to be very sweet, you need to select wines that are even sweeter. Let’s get started!
Phish Food: The coffee and chocolate flavors of malmsey madeira pair perfectly with this masterful chocolate and caramel creation to make what can only be described as a “home run”.
Chubby Hubby: The peanut butter, fudge, and saltiness of the chocolate covered pretzels in this ice cream are a great match for a nutty tawny port.
Vanilla: Who says being vanilla has to be boring? Pour some Pedro Ximenez (a sherry that packs a very sweet raisin flavor) directly on top of this ice cream to really liven things up a bit.
Cherry Garcia: One of Ben & Jerry’s most popular ice creams, the cherry and fudge pair especially well with Black Muscat, a dessert wine with notes of rose and rich berry fruit.
Half Baked: A sturdy port like Lynfred’s Raspberry Framboise is the perfect compliment to the brownie batter and cookie dough pieces found in what I have come to believe is one of mankind’s greatest creations (Half Baked Ice Cream)….like ever.
Strawberry Cheesecake: The first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of strawberries is always champagne. Rather than champagne, I found that pairing another one of my long time favorites, Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream, with a deliciously rich Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine, created another irresistible flavor combination. Alternatively, a Lambrusco Grasporossa would also pair quite well with this ice cream to create a very pleasing flavor sensation.
Additional Pairings Outside of the Ben & Jerry’s Family of Flavors
Pair peach, mango, or apricot flavored ice creams with Rutherglen Muscat (from Victoria, Australia). The wine offers piquant fruit flavors that compliment the delightfully sweet and tastiness of these particular ice creams.
For chocolate and mocha ice creams, select a Banyuls or Maury wine (from Roussillon, France). These wines are known to be heady and their richness compliments a variety of chocolate and mocha ice creams quite nicely.
If you’re feeling a little classy, try pairing floral ice creams with Icewine. Floral flavors are generally delicate, like elderflower and lavender. These flavors work especially well with sweet wines that display an ethereal lightness. Eiswein (Icewine) is a particularly good choice in this instance. These wines are luscious and dramatically sweet, with aromas and flavors of stone fruit, honey, orange blossoms and honeysuckle. They are an exquisite complement to delicately flavored ice creams.
The Two in One Method
Many ice creams these days bear the flavors of popular alcoholic beverages , but few can actually say that they have managed to produce anything with an alcohol content. If you recall earlier in this posting, we discussed the successful creation of the world’s first wine infused ice cream by Mercer’s Dairy of Boonville, New York in 2007 (the idea was conceived just two years prior in 2005). This true wine ice cream goes above and beyond what the other wine-flavored wannabes have to offer. With their trade-secreted formula, Mercer’s award winning wine infused ice cream offers age-appropriate consumers a mind-numbingly delicious blend that boasts 15% butterfat and up to 5% alcohol by volume. This packaged miracle (can you tell I really love my wine) currently comes in the following six varietals:
* Indicates my own personal favorites, all of which I would highly recommend anyone try.
Why Not Do It Yourself?
In 2008, just one year after Mercer’s debuted the creation of its wine ice cream and won Best New Product in the “Small Bite Big Taste” competition at The Great American Expo in Atlanta, GA, I noticed homemade versions were beginning to surface on the internet by people all over world. The first recipe I came across at the time was for a homemade Sweet Red Wine Ice Cream. While many people tend to be more familiar with Italy’s white dessert wines, the countries red dessert wines, like Moscato Rosa and Sagrantino Passito, offer alluring berry flavors that make them worth trying for yourself. Whether you choose to drink them as is, or use them to add flavor and sweetness to your newest homemade ice cream creation, I suspect you’ll be thankful you gave them a shot.
Below you’ll find a couple of homemade ice cream recipes to try yourself. As always, thanks for reading and enjoy!