Last week, Brian Smith alerted us to some new developments at Ample Hills Creamery, the ice cream parlor he’s planning to open in Prospect Heights later this spring. Among other things, Smith told us that his will be the only Brooklyn ice cream parlor to pasteurize its own ice cream mix, meaning he’ll take eggs, milk, cream, and sugar, and cook them together in a vat pasteurizer instead of letting a dairy farm do it for him. Curious, we called up Smith to learn more.
“If we could have cows out back and milk them ourselves,” Smith says, “it would be a natural extension of what I’d want to do.” In Brooklyn, he continues, “we live in a culture that values the idea of crafting something from scratch. You see it in chocolate and candy makers and alcohol and bitters makers. But I don’t think it’s happened yet here with ice cream.”
Last year, when Smith, a former television writer, attended Pennsylvania State University’s storied “Ice Cream Short Course,” he was surprised, he says, to learn that the vast majority — 90 to 95 percent — of independent ice cream parlors don’t pasteurize their own ice cream mix. “Basically, it’s sweet cream ice cream” from a dairy farm, he explains. “And then [the stores] add the flavors and churn them together.” Ice cream businesses that do self-pasteurize are required to register with the Department of Agriculture; after speaking with someone at the department, Smith learned that no one in New York City was registered.
“I wanted to see if it was possible to do it on your own,” he says. He was also motivated by reasons practical and idealistic.
“The real reason we’re doing it is my desire to really craft an artisanal scratch product,” he says. “If I was going to be a baker, I wouldn’t want to buy a Bisquick mix.” Then, he continues, there’s the issue of quality: He’ll be able to customize mixes to the 24 flavors he’s planning to offer. Different flavors have different liquid content: The bananas in banana ice cream, for example, are 75 percent water, and all of that excess water goes straight into a mix and thins it, resulting in an icy product. Ditto Ample Creamery’s maple bacon ice cream, to which the maple syrup contributes not only excess water but also more sugar; if Smith were to use a one-size-fits-all mix, the result would be both icy and saccharine-sweet.
Freshness is also a factor in Smith’s decision: Self-pasteurizing, he believes, will allow him to cut down the time between when the milk and cream comes out of the cow to when he serves it to his customers.
So to that end, he’s purchased a 15-gallon pasteurization tank and a chiller, something he discovered makes Ample Hills, technically, a dairy plant: The Department of Agriculture defines you as such if you happen to have a vat pasteurizer and chiller on your premises.
This being New York, Smith’s chiller doesn’t have the specifications of those in the country’s more spacious locales. Where normal chillers are six-foot-long horizontal tanks that sit on the floor, he explains, his 200 square feet of production space mean that his chiller stands six feet tall. Although the machinery looks complex, the pasteurization process is fairly straightforward: Milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, and skim milk powder are mixed together and heated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit before being cooled within two hours to 45 degrees. The chiller funnels water into a sort of jacket encasing the pasteurization tank, expediting the cooling process.
Aside from space, cost also makes self-pasteurization prohibitive to many ice cream shops. Smith acknowledges that his will “certainly be the most expensive scoop of ice cream to produce in the city.” But, he adds quickly, “we’re not going to charge the most. We’re going to try to make [the cost] up in volume and loyalty.”
He’s also planning, somewhere down the line, to start selling his ice cream wholesale to restaurants and stores. “Part of getting our permits was getting wholesale permits,” he says. “We’re not going to do it the day we open, but we have every intention to move in that direction. There’s an opening there: With the exception of Jeni’s ice cream, there’s not a lot of real wild creativity with flavor choices in the grocery store.” Smith is hoping to fill that opening with flavors like stout-and-pretzels, Bananamin (banana-cinnamon ice cream with vanilla wafers), and the Elvis Impersonator, peanut butter ice cream with candied bacon bits.
In the meantime, Smith has been busy preparing for the April 19 opening of the store, which is located at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and St. Marks Place. “I just got my waffle cone iron two days ago and have been practicing,” he says excitedly. The store, he says, won’t actually be selling waffle cones — instead, they’ll be working from a sugar-cone recipe. Sugar cones, he explains, are “the original waffle cone from 100 years ago.” So he’s trying to figure out how to get rid of the waffle-cone grid. Once he does, he’ll be making the cones from scratch every morning. Along with flavor mix-ins: Everything, from cookie dough to peppermint patties, will be made on the premises. Or almost everything. “I’m not going to make malted milk balls,” he admits. “I haven’t figured out how to make that yet.”
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