Ice Cream, Unpacked

As long as temperatures hover above 25 degrees C in downtown Toronto, popular patios have one thing in common – ice cream. Its purveyors know that the pleasure each scoop brings is due only in part to the perfectly addictive combination of cream, sugar and egg; the greater pleasure comes from something even more elusive. Ice cream evokes a simpler time, and like our own childhood, its qualities can be sublime, but ephemeral.

White Mountain churn cropped

Photo credit: Stephen Sinclair

My first recollection of the hard work required to produce what Guelph University food scientist Doug Goff calls a “frozen foam” is of taking my turn at an ice-cream churn during summers at the cottage. And while our own White Mountain churn dates from the 1930s, that company’s feat of domestic engineering has remained relatively unchanged since the company began production in 1853.

The base custard recipe becomes a “foam” with the aid of two sets of interior paddles that rotate in opposite directions inside the metal chamber, while the outer bucket contains a brine of salt and ice capable of dropping to a chilly -18 degrees C. The watery brine makes contact with the entire exterior of the metal chamber, causing the custard to increase in volume, and to freeze. Therein lies the key to a soft, creamy frozen dessert: if the foam is not kept in motion, its crystals grow large and disappointingly crunchy. Keeping the paddles moving through the rapidly freezing mixture keeps the crystals tiny and undetectable on the palate.

For over three decades, Torontonians have heralded summer by lining up at the door of Greg’s Ice Cream on Bloor. According to Greg’s employee Katherine, the shop uses natural ingredients and traditional methods to churn their ice cream. On any sunny day or balmy evening, the faithful can be seen rescuing each drip of the most popular flavour, roasted marshmallow, afraid of losing what they have waited for after a long Canadian winter. Some of us take our ice cream home and put it in the freezer, only to discover that like childhood, its moment has passed – foam collapsed, crystals formed.

Gregs ice cream

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