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Creating an ice cream flavor depends on winning combinations

Sunday, August 03, 2003

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

Some funny stories come out of deer hunting camps. Some can't be repeated in a family newspaper. But my father's favorite revolved around ice cream.

Related article:
Personal best ice creams


It goes like this:

Four hunters have spent two weeks in a tent in the woods without benefit of running water, toilet or refrigerator. The last day of the season, they walk into a restaurant and have dinner. My father orders his favorite dessert.

"I'd like a double chocolate sundae," Dad says. As any ice cream aficionado knows, a "chocolate sundae" is vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup; a "double chocolate" is chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup.

The waitress, who plies her trade in the remote "UP," Michigan's Upper Peninsula, looks dumbfounded, then brightens. Soon she sets two identical chocolate sundaes in front of Dad. His cronies crack up.

"I'll have a triple chocolate sundae," says one jokester.

Now there are five chocolate sundaes on the table.

The joke isn't exactly ready for HBO, but it got lots of laughs every year at hunting camp. Maybe you had to be there.

Today, the jokes are dirtier, the TV comedy seedier, the heroes less heroic. It makes me yearn for the old Bill Cosby show and a "double chocolate" sundae. For me, a sundae never goes out of style.

To the food police, who were recently sprouting the evils of overloaded sundaes, I say, lighten up. When I splurge, I want the best, not some weak-willed version of what might have been. That's what treadmills are for.

Ice cream genes

Being crazy about ice cream is a family trait, and I was interested to learn that Reinhold Ice Cream Co. has a spin-off online business called Ice cream lovers can create their own flavors, and the North Side company will mix and freeze it for them.

There's an art to creating a dish of ice cream that's worth the calories, though. When you're confronted with all the choices, it's easy to go overboard.

In fact, that's what Bob Mandell, Reinhold's president, tries to caution against when the corporate teams design flavors for Ice Cream Sunday, the annual Pressley Ridge Schools benefit. Bob says everything-but-the-kitchen-sink doesn't usually add up to a winning flavor.

I was so excited that I didn't even scan the shopping list of 35 standard flavors (they are added to either premium white ice cream or premium chocolate ice cream as the base). In addition, you can choose among 19 inclusions, 10 fruits or eight nuts. If I had thought too hard, I might have ended up with chocolate ice cream flavored with peanut butter, studded with chocolate covered toffee and banana split additives and rife with praline pecan.

In other words, overkill.

Instead, I went simple but boring: chocolate pecan.

This was an ice cream I couldn't get off my mind from eating three versions: the fabulous gelato once made by the late, great Amarraca grocery store near our North Hills home; the chocolate pecan occasionally offered by Bruster's; and the one that amiable high school girls used to mix for me on the spot when Mitchell's ice cream and barbecue was on my way home on Babcock Boulevard in Ross.

Mitchell's moved to Hampton, Amarraca is no more, and I haven't seen chocolate pecan at Bruster's in ages.

I didn't have to order a ton from Reinhold, either (though that wouldn't be bad). The minimum order is one batch, which is 1 1/2 gallons, packaged either in half-gallon containers or one bulk can. "You get to name it, too," says Michael Mandell, Reinhold vice president.

Reinhold is now Pittsburgh's only ice cream factory in a city that used to have 17, and it's possible to pick up your custom ice cream and avoid shipping costs. I ordered by phone and picked mine up at the creamery, where they packed it in dry ice so it wouldn't melt on the way home. Each batch costs $45, a price comparable to buying 1 1/2 gallons of Haagen-Dazs. If you have your custom flavor shipped from Reinhold, it could run as high as $80.

Never mind. This chocolate pecan is my idea of luxury: wonderfully creamy with a mouthful of pecans in every bite. In the excitement, I forgot to name my flavor. The Food Editor's Road to Nirvana? Heaven in a Spoon? Suzanne's Downfall?

Ice cream cake

Remembering my dad and his "double chocolate," our neighborhood taste-tested four toppings (see accompanying recipes), including two from a new book called "125 Best Ice Cream Recipes" by Marilyn Linton and Tanya Linton (Robert Rose; $18.95) and one from the August issue of Gourmet magazine.

A reader had asked for an ice cream cake recipe, and the one in the Lintons' "125 Best" would be a sinfully easy base for toppings or just an excuse to eat more ice cream.

Here's how to make the cake: Soften ice cream slightly, until spreadable but not melting.

Slice a commercial butter pound cake (we used Sara Lee) horizontally into thirds. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Place bottom of cake in pan, and spread 1/2 inch of premium ice cream on the cake. Put in middle slice of cake, add 1/2 inch of ice cream. Put on top slice of cake. Pull up plastic wrap to cover cake. Freeze in pan. When ready to eat, remove from pan, place on pretty plate and cut into 2-inch slice. Add topping, if desired.

You can use your custom ice cream in your cake, or it could be a treat for a family reunion (don't blame me if an argument breaks out over the "perfect" flavor) or a neighborhood picnic, which is where we tasted mine.

To give you some ideas on inventing your own flavor, some of our neighbors agreed to imagine their own "dream" ice creams. Maybe we'll have to vote on one of them and turn imagination into a reality for a future picnic.

As it turned out, my husband, Ace, invented one that seemed guaranteed to tempt no one: mango ice cream with chocolate caramel cups, pineapple and chocolate cashews

Now we'll all have our own shaggy dog ice cream story.

For details, call 1-800-351-2470, ext. 753

Web site:

Garner Farms Quick Hot Fudge

This is our family's favorite topping for the homemade ice cream always served on Christmas Eve.

  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 squares unsweetened or semisweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) and chocolate, just until chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Add vanilla and stir. Serve hot. Makes about 1 cup.

Ann Garner

Burnt-Sugar Pecan Rum Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 3/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted

Cook sugar in a dry 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar is melted into a deep golden caramel.

Tilt pan and carefully pour in water, then cream and rum (mixture will bubble up and steam vigorously.) Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Stir in pecans and serve sauce warm. Makes about 2 cups.

Tester's note: This quickly solidifies, so it must be served warm.

Gourmet (August 2003)

Cold Chocolate Espresso Sauce

The sauce is the perfect topping for chocolate, vanilla or coffee ice cream. The best part is that it lasts longer than your store-bought latte.

  • 1 package (8 ounces) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup whipping (35 percent butterfat) cream
  • 1 tablespoon cold brewed espresso

In the top half of a double boiler over simmering water, stir together chocolate chips, cream and espresso until chocolate is melted. (We did this in the microwave.)

Let cool to room temperature. Serve hot over your favorite ice cream.

Sauce will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

"125 Best Ice Cream Recipes" by Marilyn Linton and Tanya Linton

Sticky Sauce

This is the authors' version of the classic caramel sundae sauce. It's easy to whip up and elevates ice cream to a whole new level. It's so good, you'll be eating it straight from the pan.

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup whipping (35 percent) cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, cream and butter to a boil, stirring until smooth.

Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Serve hot or at room temperature as a topping.

Sauce will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Makes 1 cup.

"125 Best Ice Cream Recipes" by Marilyn Linton and Tanya Linton

PG tested recipes

Food editor Suzanne Martinson can be reached at or 412-263-1760.

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