Booze and ice cream. Two of humanity’s greatest inventions, so why not combine them? As I discovered on a weekend trip to San Antonio recently, you can, and it’s magical. And while boozy ice cream is typically made with gelatin, if you’re willing to put in a little extra leg work, yours can be 100 per cent vegetarian.
Image via Rob Nickle / The House
I had heard tell of alcoholic ice cream before this summer, but conceptual awareness did not prepare me for the flavour explosion I ordered on a hot summer’s evening at “The House,” an unassuming, family-owned ice cream parlor in San Antonio’s Southtown district. A simple scoop of coffee, kicked five notches up with a healthy splash of Patron XO Café. Shock. Wonder. Awe. This was a borderline religious experience.
I returned the following afternoon to speak with co-owner Rob Nickle about booze, ice cream, and how the laws of physics can be bent to combine the two into a summer treat that makes your childhood ice cream parties look like a cruel joke.
The problem with boozy ice cream is simple: Pure ethyl alcohol has a freezing point of -113ºV. The more booze you pack in, the less your custard wants to freeze solid. In 2011, Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison showed that you can overcome this problem by first mixing your booze with hot gelatin. (Check out Gizmodo’s video explainer on that process.)
Lum and Addison are geniuses who deserve Nobel prizes for their groundbreaking work. Still, gelatin ain’t for everybody. For one, gelatin is not vegetarian. Two, as Nickle points out, packing jello shots into ice cream can make the texture kinda funky. Early on, when he started exploring boozy ice cream last fall, Nickle decided that, hell or high water, he’d skip the gelatin.
And he’s done a remarkable job of it. By keeping all of his ingredients (alcohol included) well-chilled, and cranking the freezer down to -23ºC, Nickle is able to work almost a litre of 15 to 20 per cent booze into 8 litres of ice cream, which works out to a bit less than a shot per scoop. And this is pushing the physical limits of the universe. The House’s ice cream is on the soft serve side, and as you’d expect, the boozier flavours tend to melt fast.
But Nickle sees this as a fun challenge. The House has five rotating alcoholic ice cream flavours on tap at any point, ranging from a tropically delightful Blue Curaçao to a spicy Aztec Chocolate Amaretto. And if the ice cream isn’t punchy enough for your taste, you can always order an extra shot on top.
An Unscientific Experiment
I decided I had to try this at home. I don’t keep liquor around much, but a recent trip through a duty free airport strip landed me a cheap bottle of Disaronno. Nickle gave me a shopping list for chocolate amaretto, which I loosely followed along with the aid of the internets. Here’s what I came up with:
Yield: 1 quart
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 125g bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- Pinch cayenne
- 6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- Disarono, chilled in a freezer
(Modified from Simply Recipes Mexican Chocolate)
1. Heat 1 c cream to simmer in a saucepan, whisk in cocoa powder. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate until well incorporated.
2. Place mixture in a metal bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. Slowly whisk in the remaining cup of cream. Place a mesh sieve over the bowl.
3. Simmer 1 c milk, the sugar, salt, cinnamon and cayenne over low heat in a saucepan, whisking to incorporate the spices and dissolve the sugar. Whisk egg yolks together in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly pour heated milk mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the warm mixture back into the saucepan.
4. Stir the milk and egg mixture constantly over low heat, scraping the bottom as your stir, until the mixture thickens. Continue to stir until the mixture can coat the back of a spoon, and running a finger across the spoon won’t cause the coating to run. This should take 3-5 minutes.
5. Once milk egg mixture is thick, remove from heat and immediately pour it over the mesh sieve, into the bowl with the chocolate cream. Stir to combine and set the mixture in the fridge until completely chilled, at least two hours.
Before you churn the mixture in an ice cream maker, it’s time to whisk in the booze! Mix as much chilled amaretto as you dare into your custard, bearing in mind that the more you add, the harder it will be to freeze and the softer your final ice cream product.
My ice cream ended up being 4 parts dessert, 1 part amaretto liquor. Definitely enough to taste the booze and get you a little tipsy, but as you can see, 12 hours on it’s still very much a soft serve treat:
The experiment, 12 hours on. I think I need a colder freezer.
I learned a lot from my ‘experiment’, and I’ll definitely be attempting this again — perhaps with a liiiitle bit more discipline regarding the addition of alcohol. But I encourage you to get creative. Try the recipe above, or make up your own, and let us know how it is!
Making boozy ice cream — especially if you decide to forgo gelatin — is a challenge, but the rewards are well worth it. If successful, you will rise to deity status in the eyes of your friends. If not? Welp, you can always drink your ice cream soup on the rocks.
Top image via The House