Friday, September 26, 2008

Halloween Ice Cream

I've heard of people making Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) Ice Cream. Since ice cream creaminess is a function of ice crystal size and ice crystal size is a function of how fast a liquid freezes, LN2 ice cream is theoretically about the pinnacle of creaminess.

So it's 8 p.m. tonight and the family and I are on our way back from running errands. Zacky had ice-cream for dessert and we got... to watch him eat it. (It came with his kid's meal for free and at the time we weren't interested enough to pay for it ourselves. At least until we watched him almost literally wallow in vanilla ice cream for nearly 10 minutes. It really is incredible the amount of pleasure a child can get out of ice cream.

Aaaannnnyhooo, so we're driving home and the thought of ice cream is popping into my head repeatedly. Of course any sane person would say, "Hey hon, let's drop by the store on the way home and pick up a quart of Bryers" and call it a night.

But the rest of us aren't satisfied with something so simple and want to "make it from scratch" because we know it will be "better". That's when I get an idea.

Like the rest of us, when I "get an idea" it is usually best kept to myself, as admitting I have an idea is akin to the proverbial redneck bellow, "Hey ya'll, watch this!"

Not so much out of intelligence or cunning, but more out of being afraid that the missus will be smart enough to put the kibosh on it immediately, I don't say, "I have an idea" but rather, "Would you like me to make some ice cream tonight?". She replies, "Isn't it kind of late?", to which I reply "don't worry". I can tell she's immediately starting to worry. Smart woman.

So liquid nitrogen is not exactly readily available near us, nor do I know where to find it unreadily available at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. I *do* recall, however, the local foodstore carrying dry ice. Frozen nitrogen, frozen carbon dioxide, what's the difference?

I'll skip to the chase. When you decide to make ice cream, there are two long waits: The first is waiting for the hot custard to cool enough to be put into the ice-cream machine. The second is the wait for the final ice-cream to harden in the freezer. We're talking *hours*. Dry ice should shorten both of those enough -- methinks -- to enjoy ice cream before bedtime!

I get the custard made and it's just hit 170F. Normally I would put it in an ice bath to cool enough before porting over to the fridge. I'm impatient, so I decide to pound the dry ice into bits (suprisingly easy, but don't do this while the kid's sleeping ... FYI) before pouring it into the hot custard.

Did I mention that one should not attempt this if the pot is over half full? Surely most of you would know better than that, so I didn't need to tell you. What I can pass along is that pouring a bunch of dry ice into an almost full pot at 170F is the equivalent of putting a jet engine under a pot of silly putty and turning it up to '11'.

The pot immediately starts boiling like crazy and sputtering (ok, spraying) hot custard all over the cooktop, the counter tops, the floors and the cook. Rather than resting on its laurels, the new devil custard then decides to deplay some sort of cloaking device in the form of gaseous CO2. The stove is immediately so full of fog I can't even see the custard boiling over and filling up the burners, which I had luckily already turned off. Turning off the flame (again) to lower the violence quotient has no effect as the cooktop has long since stopped putting energy into this little dynamo. No "off" button available there.

Eeek! Quickly, I think to pour the custard/dry ice combo out of the hot pot and into the ice cream mixer (which has been in the freezer overnight) and will be much cooler than the hot pan the custard's currently occupying. Mission accomplished. The demented custard calms down quickly.

Ok, everything's cool now (almost literally) and I decide to go ahead and put the beater in and start mixing. Everything's fine until some of the dry ice starts getting agitated again and now the custard is boiling over in the stand mixer. The little beater is blowing a steady column of smoke that circles the pot as the paddle spins. Think Thomas the Train Engine meets the Dementers from Harry Potter. The mix then solidifies enough to start climbing up the beater paddle. Somehow this iniquitous liquid is managing to take over the *top* of my mixer just as fast as the bottom. What the hell is this, some sort of superfluid?

After a while it calms down a bit and I build up the courage to approach it, using a spoon for defense. Take my word for it, having ice cream *hiss* at you like some pissed-off jungle lizard is not a pleasant experience. I screw up my nerve and take a spoonfull.

All I can say is "wierd". It has a built-in effervesence very similar in feeling and taste to a root beer float... only no root beer. The only good experience so far tonight.

Rather than lose what little soft-serve progress I have made, I dismantle the mixer and scoop what I can into a tupperware bowl. The beater itself has frozen into a solid mass and has to be chiseled off.

Ten seconds after popping the lid onto the tupperware, the possesed ice-cream pops it back off. Great, it's still trying to escape. It dawns on me that the escaping gas is pressurizing the contain enough to blow the lid. Fine. Whatever. Who needs a lid? I put it in the freezer, slam the door shut and retreat.

So, long story short, don't try to make ice-cream with dry ice unless you make a batch *way* smaller than your equipment can handle. And also do it when the family is out of town and you don't have to explain why the kitchen looks like a science fair project.

Firstly, read the instructions that come with the dry ice. Instruction number 40-something says, "Don't store in a working freezer". It gives no reason.

Great. Maybe the shit takes over freezers too. I'm afraid to go check. Maybe I'll let it have the fridge. We've been wanting a new one anyway.

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