One of the things we wanted to do during our Ice Cream Social is to celebrate some of the amazingly interesting people who not only make ice cream, but make a living from making ice cream.
First up is David Lebovitz, who, in my mind, is the #1 authority on ice cream. When I first bought my ice cream maker, The Perfect Scoop, David’s book on frozen desserts, was recommended to me most often. But his dessert expertise doesn’t stop at ice cream. Case in point: Ready for Dessert and Room for Dessert, two of David’s other cookbooks.
For David’s complete bio visit his site. Or pick up his book The Sweet Life in Paris, which I just finished this weekend. It was my favorite kind of book—a memoir with delicious recipes woven throughout.
David was kind enough to answer a few questions via email (the 6-hour time difference makes phone calls a bit challenging to schedule). Here’s what he had to say:
Kristin: How did you get started making ice cream?
David: When I began working in the pastry department at Chez Panisse in the 1980s, we had a home-style machine that we packed with ice and rock salt, then made custards and froze ice cream by the quart in the back of the restaurant. Since we were feeding about 500 people per day, we quickly outgrew that machine and got a larger, more professional model so we could churn out larger batches of ice cream. Once we had the capacity to make more ice cream, more quickly, I took that as a cue to started experimenting a lot and branching out and making lots and lots of different flavors.
KA: What was the first flavor that you made?
DL: It was peach ice cream. I remember it was about forty years ago when I was growing up in New England. One summer, our neighbors filled up a big hand cranked ice cream machine, poured in a lot of cream and some sugar, then enlisted all us kids to churn it. When it was finally done, fresh sugared peaches were mixed in, and I can still remember how amazing and delicious that was. I’d never had fresh-churned ice cream before..it was so creamy and cold. I loved it!
KA: What was the hardest skill for you to master when making ice cream?
DL: I’ve been making ice cream so long, I don’t remember what was hardest, but for most people, it’s making custard. But after making it once, it’s pretty simple, and you can make any ice cream after you’ve learned how to cook a custard. (Although I usually don’t use a custard base for fruit ice creams, which are easier to put together.)
KA: What is your best, most-foolproof piece of advice you’d give to someone just getting started making ice cream?
DL: Use good ingredients. Most ice creams rely on just a couple of ingredients, it’s wise to make sure that each one is of good quality. Although it’s hard to find non ultra-pasteurized cream, it’s worth seeking out at local greenmarkets and natural food stores—the real deal tastes so much better. It’s no more work to make ice cream with really good ingredients than mediocre ones, and you can taste the results.
When making fruit and berry-flavored ice creams and sorbets, start with ripe, fresh fruits —ones that are in season—and it’s hard to go wrong since great-tasting fruits will make a great-tasting sorbet.
KA: What is your favorite flavor to make?
DL: In the summer, I love Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet from The Perfect Scoop. It’s super refreshing and combines two of my favorite summertime flavors perfectly.
KA: What is the flavor that your family and friends request most often?
DL: I’d have to say it’s Rocky Road with homemade marshmallows and chocolate-covered salted peanuts. I like it so much, I request that I make it, too!
KA: Which is your favorite to make for a summer party or BBQ?
DL: It depends. If there will be a lot of pies and cobblers, I might make a spicy fresh ginger-white chocolate ice cream. By the time people reach dessert, they’ve likely had a lot of different flavors already, especially if BBQ is on the menu. So the zing of fresh ginger will really stand out. And it pairs well with peach cobbler or a raspberry-plum tart.
I also like to make something with chocolate, especially when there’s kids around. So I might churn out a batch of chocolate ice cream then load it up with bits and pieces of crumbled chocolate brownies mixed in, or a swirl of shiny fudge ripple.
KA: Have you ever had any ice cream disasters or are there any flavors that you’ll never make again?
DL: One night when I was working in a restaurant (with a single, fixed menu), someone suggested we serve Three Basil Sorbets for dessert, using a trio of various basil leaves. About thirty seconds after the waiter served the first order, he came back into the kitchen carrying the same bowls of barely touched Three Basil Sorbets. That was sort of a disaster, but I learned that I can make a batch of emergency chocolate cakes, really, really fast.
KA: Are there any differences between making ice cream in the United States and making ice cream in Paris?
DL: The French don’t understand the concept of mix-ins, whereas in the US, we like to pile in as many flavors as possible. I’m working to change that in Paris.
KA: Is there anyone recently who has really impressed you with the fun or interesting things they are doing with ice cream?
I love to see people having a good time with ice cream. Sean and Jake at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco churn out a lot of unusual flavors using things like candied jalapeno and Thai chili lime, and Doug of The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in New York City drives around the city, spooning up toppings like wasabi pea, sea salt-chocolate, and curried coconut to garnish his swirls of soft-serve.
KA: I’m always curious: What kind of music (if any) do you like to listen to when you make ice cream?
DL: My music tastes run all over the map, but in general, something cool…like George Michael or Jamiroquai, but I’ll confess I have a fondness for classic country music, too. Singers like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton always seem to put me in the right mood to make ice cream.
KA: Would you mind giving us a sneak peek as to what flavors might be featured in an upcoming recipe?
DL: Because it’s summer right now and strawberries are in full force, I am going to make some strawberry frozen yogurt next. I love the tang of yogurt with sweet, fragrant summer strawberries. White nectarines are just coming up at the market and when puréed, the pulp is a lovely pink color, which always astonishes guests. I like to serve a scoop after dinner when it’s really hot out. When we’re done eating, I’ll drop a scoop in each diners wine glass and pour the last of the wine over the scoops. It’s like a little wine slushy and people are always delighted when they start spooning it up. It’s so refreshing, and a good way to finish off the last of the wine after a dinner party—if you have any left!
Thanks David for sharing your expertise with our readers!
Looking for more ways to celebrate ice cream month? Get involved by sending us a photo of your favorite local ice cream parlor. And by adding your favorite flavors to our Real Simple Ice Cream Social guide on Foodspotting.