It’s Ice Cream in the Rain, Just Ice Cream in the Rain

IMG_2645Some businesses that have been around for a long time keep things going by doing it all the same way, but sometimes, you have to keep reinventing yourself. It looks like Ballard’s in Concord has had to do that, but they’re still a charming place to take your kids or kid at heart.

I had never been to Ballard’s, but they used to have a retail store (Ballard’s Novelty & Party) that carried all sorts of things, including costumes and dancewear for the Concord, NH area. Although it closed in 2010, due at least in part I’m sure to the advent of the internet and big box stores, Ballard’s Ice Cream is still a charming throwback to another era – perhaps 1983, when they began selling ice cream.

My friend Sheree and I probably picked one of the worst days for ice cream – it wasn’t just cold, but it was raining, hard, and the playground equipment and outdoor area that would normally seem charming sure seemed depressing and empty in the rain! But we had a job to do (also, lots of catching up to do), so we weren’t going to let a thing like a downpour deter us.

IMG_2643.JPGI should also be upfront and say that we chose this location because it was new to me & convenient for our purposes. I knew that it wasn’t homemade ice cream (they said it comes from a few local vendors) and I also knew it was premium ice cream, not super premium, which isn’t something I try to be a snob about but which does tend to make for an ice cream I’m not as gung-ho about, as my blog entries will attest. But honestly, what sold me on Ballard’s was the sheer number of flavors on their website. There were tons of them that sounded delicious, and I couldn’t want to see what they had available during our visit.

I had my eye on Frosted Cupcake, described as “premium vanilla cupcake flavored ice cream loaded with a chocolate frosting swirl and chunks of tasty yellow cake”. Any time I can get a cross between cake and ice cream I am ridiculously excited about it, and this really sounded awesome. Of course they were out. 😦 (Being the detective sleuth that I am, I tried googling the flavor to know where it came from – looks like Hershey’s to me.)

But I came prepared with two other flavors, which they were willing to cram into a small cup for me even at the insanely cheap price of $2.75! (Their regular is $4.25, which means you can either go a little smaller than average and save big or go a little bigger and pay more, but it’s reasonable either way.)

Here’s my report on what I did get!

IMG_2651.JPGMidnight Caramel River – This was really tasty, and actually tasted almost exactly like a Hoodsie cup! “Creamy golden vanilla and dark chocolate ice cream flooded with a thick caramel swirl.” (Looks like Hershey’s too!)

Caramel Cheesecake Cookie Monster – The caramel in this is tasty, but it’s definitely not high quality – like a kids treat. The base is sort of cookies and creamy…I didn’t like the chocolate chunks, unfortunately, they were very chalky, and the cheesecake in this was only okay. “Caramel ice cream loaded with delicious cookies and cream cheesecake chunks and a chocolate wafer cookie.” (Also a possible Hershey’s match.)

I would absolutely recommend Ballard’s for kids. There is a train to play on, plenty of seating, affordable ice cream and they have tons of “real food” options as well, including sandwiches, fried food and even tacos. So it would be a fun night out with your family and you can support a local business. Following Ballard’s Facebook page has shown me how much they support their fellow businesses (even their own competition in Concord) and they absolutely deserve your support.

And although it wasn’t my favorite ice cream adventure (the weather didn’t help), I learned that I am very drawn to Hershey’s flavors – and the company was fantastic, which is the most important thing!

Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful week!

p.s. Thanks for doing your usual Amazon shopping using my affiliate link!

The Slickest Ice Cream Around

IMG_2695Living in Franconia and spending most of my time in the Littleton area, Slick’s is well-known as the best ice cream in the area. I’d enjoyed it before at local ice cream stands but had never visited their own location in Woodsville, NH. When they proudly announced they’d be opening for Mother’s Day weekend, I made plans to make the trip with my husband.

IMG_2685Slick’s ice cream stand itself is adorable. It may be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s easy to find, and the stand is clearly lovingly taken care of. Since this was dinner for both my husband and I, we went with a medium, and we inquired about some unusual flavors. When we asked if we could get two flavors in a medium, she said that actually, a medium had 3 scoops, so we could get 3 flavors! We both eagerly took on the challenge of choosing a third flavor.
Here are the results of our epic dinner which was really a sampler of all Slick’s has to offer. Their prices are pretty cheap too!

Ross Selections:

IMG_2707Bite This – Peanut butter ice cream with chocolate chunks. The peanut butter ice cream is luscious! Almost like the texture of soft serve. So good, just a perfect base, even for this woman who is unlikely to choose a peanut butter ice cream normally.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup – It’s a classic and it’s very good, just a fabulous combo, rich and smooth.

Starry Night – Dark chocolate with white chocolate chips – the dark chocolate is rich, not too dark, an awesome chocolate that I haven’t found in this particular flavor. Great compliment to the white chips. However, its really fudgy base texture wasn’t Ross’ favorite.

Jamie Selections:

IMG_2701Sugar on Snow -I ordered this one blindly figuring it had to be great based on its delicious namesake (hot maple syrup poured over snow and then stirred with a fork to a taffy-esque consistency). It’s maple ice cream with marshamllows. Insanely good! It unfortunately melts much quicker than the rest, so avoid this in hot weather or just make it a shake!

Cake Batter – Classic flavor, no fill ins. Delightful and simple and very sweet, and it was just perfect to mix with the Sugar on Snow.

Raspberry Cheesecake – Wow, the texture of this ice cream is so close to actual cheesecake! It’s a fabulous cheesecake ice cream base with very real raspberry swirl and good cheesecake bites. Probably the best cheesecake ice cream I have had, and Ross agrees.

We loved the “normal” bowls instead of a typical ice cream bowl because it gave us a real sampler to choose from as we ate and tested. Overall, Slick’s is a very good to excellent ice cream, and it’s definitely the best ice cream we’ve found in northern New Hampshire.

p.s. Thanks for doing your usual Amazon shopping using my affiliate link!

 

The Art of Ice Cream (& Where to Find It)

Making ice cream isn’t easy. I knew this, of course. I haven’t made ice cream often. Once I helped a friend hand crank their old-fashioned ice cream maker. A few other times, I used a soft serve ice cream maker my mother was given as a gift but never took advantage of (and ultimately let me have). And a couple of other times, I’ve used the ice cream ball that my husband purchased for me for Christmas a few years ago. It’s not the most efficient way to make hard ice cream, but it’s one of the most fun, so I insisted I wanted it, of course. 🙂 And there was that one other time that I followed a recipe for ice cream made in the freezer without a machine….despite all of my substitutions and improvisations, it came out pretty well.

But restaurants & businesses need ice cream that is not only serviceable, but high quality and consistent. We have some decent, and some very good, local ice cream makers in our state. I would have expected them to have their own ice cream businesses. But what I’ve learned recently, thanks to our new follower Amanda MacKinnon, who’s been in the high-end restaurant business in New Hampshire for many years, is that it is expected in the nicest restaurants that they make their own ice cream – or at least that they find a very high-quality source. So for some of the best ice cream around, you should be looking to our fanciest restaurants.

How would she know? Well, she used to be the dessert chef at Bedford Village Inn – home of probably my favorite dessert  ever – and when she worked there, she had to make their ice cream. She agreed to give me the scoop on ice cream making. (I’ll pause for you to groan.) And after her explanation, I will share with you ANOTHER place to get some really inspired ice cream.

Obviously this isn’t a recipe to follow. More like a thorough explanation for all of us ice cream geeks. Thanks so much, Amanda!

Making ice cream is very simple. Making perfect ice cream takes the right equipment, recipe, ingredients and some skill.

Ice cream typically contains milk, heavy cream, sugar, eggs, flavors. There’s two different types of heavy cream. 36% milk fat and 40% milk fat. 36% is what you typically will find at the grocery store. That extra 4% from 40% makes the ice cream smoother and creamier (the same goes for custards and mousse).

Some ice cream manufactures use skim milk and whey to make their ice cream. I do not know why. The smaller businesses use whole milk. It has less water and more fat compared to skim milk. Too much water creates ice crystals, which is fine for sorbet.
Eggs provide flavor, color, smooth texture, and air for volume when freezing in the ice cream machine. Sugar provides flavor and texture. Too much sugar will make the ice cream not only too sweet, but too wet or soupy. Not enough sugar could make the ice cream dense. (Jamie’s note – is anyone else reading this and picturing specific examples they’ve encountered of these things?)

So we’re on to flavors. Vanilla bean, chocolate, alcohol, coconut, dried fruit, fresh fruit, etc. When adding flavors, you have to keep several things in mind. The strength of the flavor, sugar content, texture when frozen, allergies and so on. Alcohol and fresh fruit are high in sugar. If you add too much, the ice cream will become softer. Chocolate will need extra sugar and/or heavy cream to prevent it from becoming like a rock. (No wonder it’s so hard to make a good chocolate ice cream!- J) Some flavors are very mild, like strawberries. If the flavor is too mild, the milk fat will hide it’s flavors (fat coats the tongue, so if you eat very hot salsa, drink milk to cool down the heat burning your tongue). If you want those mild flavors to pop, either purchase purees or cook and reduce the flavor by half. (Would it be inappropriate for me to start schooling the lesser of the ice cream places I’ve eaten? – J)

How to make the ice cream batter: Heat milk, cream, half the sugar, and maybe flavors. The eggs and half the sugar will be whisked in a separate bowl. Once the milk boils, it is tempered with the egg mixture (add part of the hot milk to the eggs, whisk together. Add the rest of the egg mixture back into the hot milk. This prevents you from shocking the eggs from cold to hot and scrambling them). Let the mixture cool down and get cold before spinning into ice cream.

Yes, better quality ingredients typically create a better product. The best example is the 36% and 40% heavy cream I talked about above. The lower quality ingredients have added ingredients and are processed differently. (Cheaper ingredients are such a disappointment! – J)

Ice cream machines: The larger ice cream makers use equipment I have never seen before, like Ben and Jerry’s. So, I am not sure how they work. On a smaller scale, the ice cream machine typically is a very large, heavy and expensive piece of equipment. Pour the cold ice cream batter into the machine and let it run. Once running, a cooling system turns on around the canister. A paddle turns in the canister spinning the ice cream. The spinning paddle, cold air, and milk fat help create the volume of ice cream by creating air cells. Too much air will make the ice cream soft and make it melt faster. Not enough air will make it dense.

The skill is in recognizing the batter, processing the ice cream, playing with flavors and knowing all the above (if not more)!

Thanks again, Amanda! And if you’ve stuck with me through all of this, I wanted to update all of you. If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw something about this, but I think it’s really important that I let all of you know that in Belmont, NH, we have true ice cream innovators. In all my years of exploring ice cream in New Hampshire, I’ve NEVER had the chance to try a savory ice cream, despite my interest. I’ve had flavors that seemed unusual to me, maybe seasonal flavors like ginger or pumpkin. But I’ve never been able to try savory ice cream.

IMG_2267Well, shortly after I visited Jordan’s Creamery for the first time, I saw on Facebook that they offer ice cream flights. A different one every month, four flavors total. My mind was blown, and I knew had to go back quickly to try one.

All of the flavors sounded intriguing, of course, and they all had elements that I wouldn’t think of as “sweet”.

#1 Avocado with a hint of sriracha

#2 Lavendar & honey

#3 Ricotta, white chocolate, and honey ice cream/sherbet (it’s a hybrid)

#4 Buttermilk and biscuits with a raspberry swirl

The pricing is also incredibly reasonable. $10.99 for a fancy flight didn’t seem that crazy to me, just a little pricey. But the amazing thing is that if you hold onto your wooden paddle that comes with your first purchase, your other flights are only $3.99. $3.99 for four fancy flavors! Isn’t that insanely awesome?!

So for my review, I am first of all just so thankful and in shock that there is a local ice cream maker doing something like this. I thought I’d have to go to Boston to find it. And when you order it, it’s like you’re in a secret club because there is absolutely NO signage to tell you that Jordan’s carries anything like this. Just your average little ice cream stand…and then all of the sudden someone walks out with this killer ice cream flight and your mind is blown, right? So cool.

I think what most surprised me about the whole experience is that I actually preferred the more savory flavors to the sweeter flavors. This makes me think that my ideal future of ice cream eating would be focused on savory…good for my body I imagine too, if I ate less sugar! So will need to work on making that happen…

I’ll review them backwards, sweet to savory.

IMG_2270#3 Ricotta, white chocolate and honey ice cream/sherbet. I found this to be the sweetest of the bunch. The ricotta base isn’t sweet, and it’s a fun compliment to the white chocolate chips and honey, really showcasing them. Honestly, the ricotta ice cream doesn’t do or taste like much.

#4 Buttermilk and biscuits with a raspberry swirl – The buttermilk base is barely sweet and very nice. All of these are super smooth, BTW. Buttermilk biscuits themselves are totally savory, so it’s a fun savory base with the delightful raspberry swirl. (I expected perfection since their fat free berry yogurt had been exceptional at my last visit.)

#2 Lavender & honey – Best idea ever! It had kind of a peppiness, like a heat that tickles your throat. The honey is the perfect match for this although it honestly wasn’t necessary, at least in a small serving…made it more interesting of course but just the lavender would have had me raving, to die for. Lavender plus the creaminess of ice cream…such a perfect flavor to capture.

#1 Avocado with a hint of sriracha – It’s a little sweet, lovely and smooth. The avocado is awesome, and occasionally you get little pieces too. Touch of heat in the bites adds layers to it. A perfect savory ice cream. Between the texture of ice cream, milk fat and creaminess of the avocado it feels extremely indulgent, and the heat wakes you up!

Overall I had a fabulous second experience at Jordan’s. They were running a Facebook special when I was there, so I got to save $2, which I tipped because despite four lines of 10 people or so, it moved very quickly, my server was fantastic and wow, it takes a lot of work to scoop 4 kinds of fancy ice cream and then present them, one by one, with a full description (like a wine tasting) and a smile on your face! This kind gentleman spent about four minutes on my order alone, minimum, before talking me through the flavors.

So now that you’ve learned about ice cream, I hope you can gain a bit more appreciation for the artistry that goes into making fine ice cream. And please, patronize Jordan’s. They seem to be doing well because they’ve announced they’ll be opening a second location soon, which is awesome. I cannot wait to try their next flight (it comes out around the 15th each month) and I hope you will make a visit! It’s worth it. And thanks again, Amanda, for your help!

p.s. Thanks for doing your usual Amazon shopping using my affiliate link!