Thursday, August 12, 2010


998321 is the formula for super-premium ice cream... at least the base of super-premium ice cream. This according to Alton Brown, in his now famous Churn Baby Churn II episode of Good Eats. The Food Network first aired this episode some two years ago, so this is not new information, but it is new to me.

Just what the hell does 98321 mean?

  • 9 ounces of sugar by weight. Preferably vanilla sugar. More on this later.
  • 8 egg yolks, separated from their whites, naturally.
  • 3 cups of half & half
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
I would add to that a shake or two of sea salt and a couple of grinds of white pepper. I also chopped half a vanilla bean, gutted it, and tossed it in.

Last night I used this formula to brew up some super-premium chocolate ice cream for the first time. I think the results are going to be pretty spectacular. The process is fairly long, but extremely interesting.

I am not one for separating egg yolks, and have never really done it before in my cooking. I disdain recipes that call for this process. I think the egg is pretty well perfect as-is, and fucking around with it is usually outside the pale of any acceptable human conduct. Yet, the lure of super-premium chocolate ice cream was strong enough to bait me into this immoral conduct.

It turns out separating eggs and yolks is trivial. My first go at the shell method worked fine. The only minor problem was that I could only go from shell to shell about 4 times before the yolk would pop. No big deal, as the white had already been separated pretty well. Who cares if the yolk pops? You are going to whip it anyway?

I found the hand method is a heck of a lot better. More egg white comes off, and the yolk does not pop. Also, health advocates now say that using your hand--if it is even moderately washed--introduces less bacteria than going shell to shell. I found that surprising. Most great chefs will admit that they have seen this health-presentation more than once, but they dislike the notion of changing techniques.

Anyhow, it is the hand method for me.

Whipping the sugar into the yolk was a really interesting experience. I would have used my stand mixer, but it was dirty from the meat loaf I had just made. I did not want to risk that kind of cross-contamination, and I didn't want to wash the mixer bowl with bleach and reuse it immediately for ice cream. Therefore, I whipped it by hand with a nice whisk from Ikea. That was some work, but the results were pretty damn close to perfect. The custard gets incredibly thick. It is almost like wet concrete.

Now for the interesting part: Brewing the chocolate base.

I placed 8 ounces of half & half in my favorite 4.5 quart Le Creuset pot, and tossed in 2 ounces (by weight) of Hersey's dark chocolate powder. It turns out that chocolate powder has a low mass density, about half that of sugar. Two ounces by weight fills about half a cup of volume. I whisked that over low heat for about 6 or 7 minutes until it turned smooth. Then I began slowly adding the rest of the half & half and heavy cream. Once all that was mixed in smoothly, I raised the temperature to 170F. I confirmed that temp with two different thermometers.

I took the pot off the stove, moved it next to my big (8 cup) measuring cup containing the custard (sugar and yolk). I began ladling in the chocolate cream into the custard slowly whisking it pretty hard. The concrete loosened up pretty quick. Before you knew it, I had the whole thing mixed smooth. I took that big measuring cup of chocolate custard, and poured it right back into the Le Creuset pot.

The pot went back on top of the stove where I heated it again to 170 F. I whisked hard the entire time. There were little problems as bits of skin did form on the base of the pot. Overall, there was no real problem. It was during this heating that I threw in the vanilla bean, the salt and the fresh ground white pepper corns. I have a nice Vic Firth grinder for this purpose

I used to use Vic Firth drum sticks when I was a kid playing the drums. Now I have Vic Firth maple rolling pins, cutting boards, and pepper grinders.

After the mixture reached 170F, it went right back into the 2 quart measuring cup. My nice rubber seal went over the top of the 2 quart measuring cup, and it went into the frige over-night. Of course, there was chocolate ice cream batter residue on my Le Creuset pot. I had to clean it some out.

I got to lick the pot, with the help of my fingers. It was good. Damn good. I could tell already that this was going to be one hell of an ice cream.

This morning, I churned the mixture before going to work. That was some of the hardest and firmest soft-serve I have ever seen. Just about all of it went into a nice rubber-made container and into the freezer. Of course, there was soft-serve ice cream residue lining my ice cream churn. I had to clean it out some how.

I got to lick the pot, with the help of a butter knife. Don't use your fingers. You will get frostbite. It was good. Damn good. It was already one hell of an ice cream. I wonder what it is going to taste like tonight, after it has hardened for about 9 hours?

Stunning stuff. I would like to invite Katy Perry over for a scoop of my ultra-premium Hersey's dark chocolate ice cream. Knowing the character of the Capricorn, she probably wouldn't leave the apartment for a week.

That would be just fine with me. I would not have a problem with that.