If there’s one perk that stood out to me about this past year’s quarantine period and summer (not much of a difference), it would undeniably be the heaps of time suddenly showered upon me for one of my greatest hobbies: cooking/baking. I was finally able to realize my dreams of hours spent cooking cream puffs, pancakes, gnocchi made from scratch, soups, etc. And yes, I definitely do plan to utilize the New York Times website year-long subscription (available now to EHS students 13 and up!) to look for new recipes there. However, the spotlight of this article is none other than a simple unassuming custard, the one you know as chocolate ice cream.
My interest in replicating the taste of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Ice Cream stemmed from the day my mother made a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream. When I learned of a newly bought ice cream maker. I decided on a recipe that received five stars on the internet, practically every review raving about the utter decadence and perfection of it. What could realistically go wrong?
Well, it turns out that trying to learn new cooking techniques on the fly isn’t so straightforward, and I’ll admit I did have a few episodes of frenzied task-juggling. Yet, I made it through with a decent-looking ice cream base. Despite my best efforts, however, I ended up with a mildly confusing result, more solid chocolate than anything else. My churned ice cream had a few other minor flaws (such as not melting when eaten), but re-churning it with a cup or two of half-and-half did the trick.
After the several weeks it took to ingest batch one, I found myself attempting again to make ice cream, this time prepared with a slip of paper bearing a tweaked version of the original recipe (calling for much more half-and-half). The second batch produced a result not much better than the first- bitter, chalky, and hard… need I say more? However, what I ended up taking away that day was the wonder of cooking. What other people see- the finished cooked good- is only the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes that tip is perfect, sometimes not so much. But only I, the cook, am able to get excited by something as simple as whisking egg yolks and sugar together until they form thick, pale ribbons or by hearing the sound of half-and-half being poured into a pot.
Ultimately, I decided that the best route to achieving a better ice cream lied in become a chocolate ice cream connoisseur. And so, after tasting and scrutinizing Haagen Dazs, Bronx Zoo, and Baskin Robbins ice cream (Bronx Zoo was definitely the best), I was able to pinpoint my issue and use reverse engineering to tweak the original recipe. I realized that there was in fact a very simple solution to my recipe woes- leaving most ingredients in the recipe alone because each contributed to the texture, halving the amount of chocolate (my issue), and making sure to beat enough air into my mixture while avoiding overcooking it.
As it turned out, my experience of making this chocolate ice cream was plenty more useful than following a five-star online recipe. My time in the kitchen gave me something to build upon. As people say, “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”
And no, I still have little idea of why my chocolate ice cream turned out so drastically different from the recipe. However, what you see on paper is just another finished result, not necessarily representative of all the little diversions you unintentionally or otherwise take from the main road- it’s the technical truth, but isn’t everything made up of a myriad of truths?
Cooking can be simply defined as, “the practice or skill of preparing food by combining, mixing, and heating ingredients.” I guess there’s just a whole lot that a standard definition or recipe will not tell you, making the process of cooking more than half of the fun.