Is it a swirled cone after a long bike ride, a scoop of orange sherbet after a baseball game or banana split after a day at the pool? Where do you go for frozen confections on a hot summer day?
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"Come on, kids. We're going out for ice cream."
In my house, that saying has many interpretations.
I could mean we're heading to Baskin Robbins for a scoop of mint chocolate chip, to Dairy Queen for a Dilly Bar or to Andy's Frozen Custard for Snowmonster Concrete.
It's all the same, right?
These frozen treats all start with milk, yet have qualities that make them distinct. To help me sort it all out I asked some experts to help me (and you) understand our frozen faves.
Base ingredients: Milk or cream, sugar
Percent butterfat: 10 to 16 percent
Serving temp: 6 to 10 degrees
Added air: 50 percent (of total ingredients)
Founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson counted themselves as ice cream fans at a time with making ice cream called for chilling the mixture with snow or river ice.
Many of us, at one time or another, have hand-cranked ice cream at home, a family picnic or a neighborhood block party. Jim Capannari makes it every week, though without the crank.
Talking loudly over the whirling of fans and buzz of machines that churn and chill, Capannari, an award-winning ice cream maker, discusses his favorite topic.
"The texture is very, very important to the process of eating ice cream; it should be dense, smooth, have a velvety mouth feel," Capannari explains. "When you're eating it, it should feel like you're actually eating a really dense pudding."
It's the overrun, a technical term for air pumped into the mix, that defines the texture. With ice cream, the amount of added air equals the amount of original ingredients.
Freshness is key, he adds. Milk from cows grazing in Aurora this week will be scooped as ice cream in his Mount Prospect shop next week.
"On a typical, hot summer day, we can sell over 100 gallons, between the shop and catering," he says.
Base ingredients: Milk, sugar
Percent butterfat: 5 to 8 percent
Serving temp: 18 to 23 degrees
Added air: Less than 50 percent
Billowy Dairy Queen soft serve on a cone is the first ice cream I remember eating as a kid; it was also the first ice cream I gave my son. I love the snow white color, the unadulterated vanilla flavor, the silky feel of the ice cream and the fact that it doesn't give me a head freeze.
The warmer serving temperature is to thank for that.
"When you get (soft serve), it's not so hard that you have to let it melt before your taste buds can taste it," says Bob Cahill, owner of a St. Charles Dairy Queen franchise.
Unlike hard scoop ice cream that is made in batches and frozen for serving, making soft serve ice cream is a continuous process. Customers always get a freshly made cone or treat. A liquid formula gets poured into a machine that pumps air into the mixture to "fluff it up," Cahill says. That mixture goes into a freezer and when the server pulls the lever, it comes out at about 18 degrees.
"If you were a kid, you got a cone; if you were a good kid, you were allowed to get a chocolate dipped cone," Cahill says, recalling his own and others' childhood memories.
The first Dairy Queen store opened in 1940 in Joliet and there are now 153 shops in the Chicago metro area. While the swirl-tipped cone has nostalgia going for it, the Blizzard is DQ's top selling treat, and had been almost since it's introduction in 1985, Cahill says.
Base ingredients: Milk, sugar, egg yolks
Percent butterfat: 10 percent, premiums up to 18 percent
Serving temp: 18 to 20 degrees
Added air: 15 percent
The serving temp is warmer than that for ice cream, but "frozen custard is still firm; you can taste the flavor, the dairy essence," says Andy Kuntz of Andy's Frozen Custard.
The chain, which started in the Missouri Ozarks more than 20 years ago, has a dozen shops, including one in southwest suburban Bolingbrook.
Frozen custard is created by adding a liquid formula to a mixing and cooling machine. The mixed and cooled product drops into a cooler; it reminds me of PlayDoh snaking out of a press mold.
Servers hand scoop the custard for sundaes, Concretes (custard mixed with nuts, candies and other add-ins) and other dairy delights. The machines at Andy's cranks out 15 gallons an hour so the custard you order is never more than one hour old.
Kuntz says that as the product sits the molecules grow and change the texture of the product, so any that doesn't sell after 60 minutes is remelted and rerun through the machine.
Because custard doesn't travel well, it is generally sold at stands, like Andy's and Culver's. "It's a lot easier to sell ice cream than frozen custard, which takes more energy and effort," Kuntz says. "Frozen custard is what ice cream wishes it could be."