Do you ever ask too many questions? Do you ever look around a little too much, and find that in looking for one simple answer you have only found more questions? Have you ever innocently opened the proverbial can, looking for one little worm of information, only to find yourself staring into an abyss filled with slithering, pulsing information?
I have opened a can of worms folks, big and beyond my grasp, by asking a simple question about ice cream.
It wasn’t long ago that I had a simple counter top ice cream maker like most have in their homes. For this little machine I made simple egg custard ice cream bases. When I wanted a different flavor, I adjusted the recipe. When I wanted a richer ice cream I added more cream. Sometimes I added simple syrup to make it softer. But for the most part, I made my recipes, and never asked any questions.
When I stepped into my position at Veil, a new ice cream machine was waiting for me. The Paco Jet doesn’t function like any other ice cream machine on earth. It doesn’t use a liquid base. It doesn’t want my tried and true recipes. And honestly, I don’t know how to make it happy.
The machine takes a small canister filled with ice cream base that has been frozen solid. It sends a whirring blade down slowly, shaving the ice at microscopic measures. Pull the canister from the machine and viola, ice cream. Simple enough.
But when it comes to formulating recipes to put in that canister, I am at a loss. What I am doing right now is taking a recipe someone else formulated, and changing the flavors as I need. But it’s like shooting in the dark, because I don’t know why on earth I am using the ingredients I am, and why the quantities are as they are.
At WD-50, Alex used the same machine, and I watched consistantly perfect and ready to use ice cream come out of the canisters just after the paco did it’s job. So when I spun my first batch at Veil, I was shocked to see a runny liquid. The formula they use is ready 3 to 4 hours after spinning. From there, it is only the correct texture for about an hour, after which it becomes too hard to scoop. So my window of usable ice cream is hard to time, and if you get busy and forget to spin it at the correct time, you are screwed. Really screwed.
The person who formulated the recipes is no where to be found, as the chef collected them from other restaurants he has worked in and brought them along. The best explanation I can get out of him is, “there are 4 different sugars in the recipe” (there are two) and “you know when you buy ice cream and you take the lid off and it’s gooey…. that’s because there’s too much stabilizer.” (not an answer to anything)
A piece of wisdom I took from Alex Stupak was this. Most chefs are just changing flavors out, and don’t know what their recipes are doing. I vowed then and there to become more than that. I want to understand, to gain true control. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a recipe created for a different kitchen, because it is out of context.
So I have started looking around for my answers, and opened the biggest can of worms I could have found. It seems ice cream is everything all in one. Solid, liquid, and gas. A foam, an emulsion, a matrix.
It has become clear that if I really want that little answer I was seeking, the understanding of how to control the final product coming out of my paco jet, I need to know quite a few things. I look back a few months, before I asked my simple question, and see my ignorant bliss. A state in which I had no idea of the journey I was about to embark on, the length of the trail I need to follow before I come to my destination; ice cream.