adventures in craft beer and real food

Sunday, July 30, 2006

SHF 21: The Root Beer Float

For this month's edition of Sugar High Friday, Sarah of The Delicious Life wants ices. Since she seemed particularly obsessed with Vanilla Ice, who will always be more "go ninja" than "ice, ice baby" to me, and since this blog is into beer, what better way to express this theme than with a humble root beer float? Like Boulud making a hamburger, I hope that I can show you that this dessert can be more than be more than the all-too-common bad marriage of bad root beer and bland ice cream.

To play matchmaker, I needed to make the most delicious vanilla ice cream and find the best root beer. The root beer part was easy. Nevertheless, it gave me a good excuse to taste two of my favorite brands together: Point and Sprecher. Since the experience was more hedonistic than I'd probably like to admit, I'll announce that I found Sprecher's root beer to be richer and more complex than Point's cleaner and more straight-forward flavor.

The ice cream offered a unique challenge in that I wanted to make the richest, most delicious vanilla ice cream I've ever had. I found three different recipes and compared their ratios of sugar and eggs side-by-side. I then decided to make my ice cream with the one with the most eggs yolks (ten) and the least amount of sugar (one cup) per quart of dairy. To be honest, I basically made Glace-Créme á la Vanille Escoffier with a few noted deviations.

To get my dairy products, I visited the new Westside Community Farmers' Market where I bought a quart of whole milk and a pint of cream from Nick Kirch of Blue Marble Family Farm. They purvey what might very well be the highest quality milk anywhere. Although I might question their claim that homogenized milk is bad for you and their use of clear glass bottles (the fat in milk is highly sensitive to photooxidation), their unhomogenized milk has a flavor that I had never before experienced.

I combined two cups of whole milk with two cups of cream in a heavy sauce pan. Then I added two Madagascar vanilla beans (from Penzey's Spices), even though Escoffier only calls for one. In this case, Madagascar vanilla beans seemed like a better bet because of their clean vanilla flavor. I let this mixture simmer for twenty minutes over a medium-low flame.

Meanwhile, I whisked one cup of sugar and a dash of salt into ten egg yolks until the mixture became pale yellow. When my dairy was properly scalded and infused, I added the strained dairy mixture into the eggs yolks via tempering. Once combined, I strained the mixture and put it back on the stove and stirred it continuously until it became slightly more viscous. Once done, I strained the mixture again and put it in the refrigerator until it reached the ambient temperature of my fridge (39° F). You want to freeze the ice cream at the lowest possible temperature above freezing to avoid ending up with a grainy ice cream.

At this point and in defiance of Escoffier, I added several spoons of my cranberry honey and a tablespoon of Mexican vanilla extract. Why? I was hoping to convoke the honey flavors of the ice cream and root beer. I also added the vanilla extract to give the ice cream an extra dash of vanilla flavor. If I were just making vanilla ice cream for eating vanilla ice cream, I would recommend against this step. However, in this case, I wanted to make sure that the ice cream could stand up to a full-flavored root beer. That's also why I chose Mexican vanilla extract (again, from Penzey's) for its rich, complex vanilla flavor.

Once my cream was at a cold enough temperature, I froze it in my ice cream maker for thirty minutes and left it in the freezer for about a day to firm up.

The resulting vanilla custard is probably the best vanilla ice cream that I've ever had. It's rich, and extremely flavorful. It combines a pleasant dairy flavor with a solid dose of vanilla. Plus, I love the light brown color and the vanilla speckles.

To make my root beer float, I spooned three scoops of my custard into a small glass and filled to volume with root beer. It was a revelatory experience to me, in that never I had a root beer float like this before. That and I always thought the problem with a root beer float was also a mechanical one. The ice cream would float on top of the root beer, making it almost impossible to combine the flavors. With a larger amount of ice cream, this problem was obviated.

In fairness, however, I think the ice cream was too good. And by that I mean that it might have been too rich and eggy for a root beer float. Next time, I will make it with a smaller number of egg yolks or simply skip the eggs in favor of Philadelphia-style ice cream. The addition of egg yolks has the advantage of making the ice cream melt more slowly, which is good unless you're looking for a fancy cream soda.

Sipping at an ice-cold root beer and savoring the creamy custard melt in my mouth was enough to make me forget the nearly 100° F weather today, one spoonful at a time.

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sarah said...

oh, that looks sooo good!

make root beer said...

As you're growing up as a teenager, there are a number of things that you look forward to; getting your drivers license,

graduating from high school, going to your senior prom, having your first date and having your first beer. The problem

with this last one is that the drinking age and the thing you want make it something that you just can't have yet. And

still, you want it and will go to any lengths to get it.

Underage beer drinking is certainly no secret and to try to sweep it under the carpet isn't going to make it go away. But

the most odd thing about underage drinking when it comes to beer is that even after kids sneak their first beer, they

still want to have another one. If you're wondering why that sounds so strange then you need to think back to when YOU

had your first beer. It was pretty nasty tasting. Let's be honest, beer is bitter and is an acquired taste. Very few

people, if any at all, enjoyed their first beer. Many even get sick after it because of the taste or the fact that

they're not used to the alcohol yet.