While much of American life has changed in 2009, the simple pleasures remain the same. Summer is hot, ice cream is glorious, and those with a sweet tooth know exactly where to find their favorite summertime treat.
From the infamous Penn State Creamery in State College, Penn., to Bi-Rite in San Francisco, these unbeatable ice-cream shops serve up delectable scoops that will keep you coming back for more well beyond the end of summer.
More is the key word at the Creamery, which averages more than 750,000 cones and bowls of ice cream each year, along with 200 milkshakes made daily. Operating out of Penn State’s Food Science Building, the Creamery provides university students as well as the likes of Bill Clinton, Bob Costas and Martha Stewart with more than 100 flavors to choose from. Besides traditional delights like rum raisin and café mocha, rarities include pecan apple danish, chocolate pretzel crunch and an aptly-named concoction called “happy happy joy joy” comprised of coconut ice cream with butter-roasted almonds and chocolate chips.
While not ice cream in the traditional sense, Ted Drewes is by far the most beloved frozen custard shop in Saint Louis, Mo., and its Route 66 stand stays open until midnight during the summer to feed comfort-seeking devotees. Unlike the Creamery, the only flavor available at Ted Drewes is vanilla, which is then mixed with fresh toppings like tiramisu and strawberries, and blended into mass so thick it’s charmingly referred to as “concrete.”
According to pâtisserie chef Rachel Khoo, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the “amount of ‘air’ or beating the mixture goes through” is what differentiates frozen custard from ice cream. “Frozen custard is beaten very little, adding only about 20 percent air, making it a lot denser and less aerated than ice cream, which can have up to 100 percent air worked into the mixture.”
But in light of recent economic changes one question remains, are Americans still indulging in high-quality ice creams as they have been in previous years?
The experts say yes.
“It’s still an affordable luxury and people appreciate fine ingredients and more ‘upscale’ scoops,” says David Lebovitz, renowned pastry chef and author of “The Perfect Scoop.” “People are willing to pay more for ice cream.”
Khoo agrees that people are “treating themselves to a little luxury in the form of premium food products like ice cream.”
Marti Pupillo, assistant director of communications with the International Dairy Foods Association, says “ice cream is a true comfort food that people associate with fun and happy times,” and notes that “ice cream sales have remained steady” despite shifts in the economic climate.
That would explain the growing success of
Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, a Santa Fe, N.M., shop that recently opened a second operation in Berkeley, Calif. Tara’s serves to-die-for organic ice cream produced in small batches that come in wildly imaginative flavors like sage, strawberry rose, goat cheese raspberry, and Turkish coffee. Tara’s also offers ice cream brownie sandwiches in vanilla, mint, lavender, cinnamon, and peanut butter, and offers ice cream cakes made with cashew nut crust and topped with chocolate and hand-crafted paper flowers.
With its temperate climate and abundance of farm-fresh dairy and produce, it’s no surprise that California has the market cornered on some of the best ice creams in the country. Bi-Rite in San Francisco serves small-batch ice creams in flavors like salted caramel and lavender honey lavender that comes from hives less than a mile away from the store. Cones are made with organic ingredients, and seasonal desserts like the springtime sundae, made with crème fraiche ice cream, strawberries and sugar cookies, are impossible to resist.
In Santa Barbara, Calif., family-run McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams uses fresh cream from local dairies. “Our family has been making and selling our super premium ice creams — 17 percent milkfat, 15 percent air content, all-natural — for 60 years here in Santa Barbara,” says Jimmy Young, McConnell’s president. Cocoas come from Guittard Chocolate Company in San Francisco, sugar from Hawaii, pure vanillas from Paso Robles. Several of McConnell’s flavors, including Brazilian coffee, pumpkin, macadamia nut and vanilla bean, among others, are available by the pint, so you can devour your favorite flavor at home.
Indeed, homes are where most ice creams in America are being consumed. Pupillo says that “more than 90 percent of American households buy ice cream,” and “manufacturers closely monitor and react to changes in consumer preferences. Consumers are still looking for ‘better-for-you’ treats, so we expect to see new ice cream products combining indulgence and portion control.”
Control aside, when it comes to creating an unforgettable ice cream, the quality of ingredients is what matters most, according to Lebovitz. “It’s one of the few things where the less you add, the better.”