What started with just two guys and a truck has morphed into one of NYC’s favorite ice cream destinations. Frozen-dairy titan Big Gay Ice Cream (multiple locations) is known for its locally sourced soft-serve and eccentric toppings (everything from key lime curd to cayenne pepper and wasabi pea dust), and its locations frequently feature long lines waiting to order a treat. But now, you can make this ice cream at home.
Owners and founders Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint just released Big Gay Ice Cream: Saucy Stories & Frozen Treats: Going All the Way With Ice Cream, in which they’ve documented their ascent from streetside ice cream men to kings of a bicoastal empire of dairy. With a nontraditional approach, the book aims to give readers a blueprint to follow in the authors’ Big Gay Ice Cream–making footsteps.
Just like the company, this volume upends standard notions of what a manual on making ice cream should be. Where most start with recipes for complicated custards, this one begins with supermarket trappings and progresses to 100 percent made-from-scratch recipes, all following a high school yearbook format. And it’s just as comical as its inspiration — superlatives among Petroff and Quint’s famous friends range from “Most Likely to Succeed” (Stacy London) and “Homecoming Queen” (Gail Simmons) to “Class Stoners” (L.A.’s Animal owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo) and “Class Slut” (their musician friend who got them started in the biz, Andrea Fisher).
Chapter one, freshman year, sounds like child’s play: Go to the store, buy some ingredients, throw them together. It’s really about training the palate and expanding readers’ repertoire. Two beautifully laid-out pages are dedicated to vanilla with toppings including honey and cayenne, jams, chutneys, marmalades, maple syrup, cardamom, olive oil, and even Trix cereal. Same goes for chocolate — the owners pair it to ginger syrup and curry powder, peppermint candies, malt balls, pistachio, chiles, Old Bay seasoning, and Cocoa Puffs. Strawberry matches basil, shortbread cookies, peppercorns, jalapeños, lemongrass, and mini-marshmallows. Quint and Petroff’s thought process was that if they could get readers excited about the easy stuff, they’d move on to making ice cream at home. “We want to hook people,” says Quint. “It’s like putting out a two-minute, thirty-second single of the most accessible song, then you buy the record and that’s when your mind is really blown.”
Sophomore year, chapter two, moves on to toppings made at home with instructions for things like toasted curried coconut, whiskey walnuts (really easy, says Quint), bourbon butterscotch, fig sauce, and Jenn Louis’s olive-and-chocolate Magical Shell. Junior year progresses to sundaes, shakes, and floats, featuring house recipes such as those for the Mermaid Sundae (key lime curd, vanilla ice cream, and graham cracker pie crust), the Gobbler Sundae (pumpkin butter, maple syrup, apple butter, and bourbon butterscotch), and a ginger-curry shake. It culminates with senior year, a wide selection of directions for ice cream and sorbets. Flavors range from basic sweet cream, strawberry, and coffee ice cream to inventive offerings (e.g., cardamom ice cream and Mountain Dew sorbet).
Throughout each year, Quint and Petroff open up a bit more about their journey into the dessert industry. When they started off, the pair knew little about making ice cream. They liked it, they sold it, they were into creative combinations, but it wasn’t until they opened their first storefront that they went down the path of formulating their own from-scratch recipes. At that point, they read books; The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz was a favorite. They went to seminars and other businesses, seeking out ice cream makers like the people who turn out Toscanini’s Ice Cream in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Well-known pastry chefs and professionals like Paulette Goto, Johnny Iuzzini, and Zac Young were quick to answer questions along the way. “I took it to professionals to teach me and said, ‘I don’t know how to do this, so teach me,’ ” says Quint. “Which seems to be a better way than going to somebody, ‘Can I just shadow you?’ I went right to people and said, ‘I don’t know this, teach me this.’ And that’s the way to get an earnest lesson from somebody.”
When they opened their second outpost, Quint and Petroff were able to take their recipes to Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in the Hudson Valley. Through years of learning and working in the business, Quint feels like they finally have a firm grasp on ice cream and are now quick to return the favor of their mentors, doling out advice to anyone who asks. “It’s very odd, because it’s the sort of thing you study hard, you work hard, you talk the talk and then realize, I know stuff,” says Quint. “And when people come to us for advice, I really know what to tell them, and it’s really, really fun.”
While they won’t call themselves masters of ice cream just yet — they’re still studiously exploring new recipes and techniques — they hope that readers will take advantage of all the knowledge they’ve accrued over the years. The book is fun, attractively laid out, and funny — there’s a page dedicated to picking ice cream toppings for smokers, potheads, heroin addicts, and kids. Yet it’s not intended to serve as a coffee-table or hobby book. Quint and Petroff want it to be used as a real working cookbook. “It has stories in it,” says Quint. “Some of the recipes might be a little strange, but you can take this thing into the kitchen and we’re going to teach you how to make ice cream.”
Big Gay Ice Cream’s ginger-curry shake recipe.
Reprinted from Big Gay Ice Cream. Copyright © 2015 by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint. Photographs copyright © 2015 by Donny Tsang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Makes 2 thick 8-ounce shakes
The Ginger-Curry Shake was the first specialty shake of our own devising to find a regular spot on the menu. We’d been using The Ginger People’s ginger syrup as an ice cream topping, encouraging people to give it a sprinkling of curry powder as a complement. Kyle, one of our regular customers, asked if we’d consider making that as a shake. With him as our guinea pig, we set about getting it right. Curry powder is a blend of spices, so you never know exactly what you may get until trying the end result. Start with the amount listed below and go from there.
3⁄4 cup whole milk
1⁄4 cup ginger syrup
1⁄8 teaspoon mild yellow curry powder
4 large scoops Vanilla Ice Cream (page 157) or Sweet Cream Ice Cream (page 147 or 156)
Add the milk, ginger syrup, and curry powder to a blender, cover, and quickly pulse the blender to combine. Add the ice cream, cover, and blend on a medium setting until you see a whirlpool form — that’s when you know it’s done. Pour or spoon the shake into two tall glasses. Top with any garnish you’d like — candied lime rind, whipped cream, a drizzle of more ginger syrup, it’s all good. Serve with straws and spoons. Chock dii!
HICCUP ALERT: We’ve liquored up this shake to good results. Reduce the amount of milk to 1/2 cup and use 1/4 cup well-chilled rum or coconut-flavored alcohol. New York City food personality Eddie Huang showed up one night with a bottle of coconut-infused vodka, and we used some in this shake. From what we remember (that night has grown hazy over time), it tasted excellent!
We always keep our liquor bottles in the freezer, and we assume you do the same.