Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce.
When it comes to food, we'll admit that New Yorkers are spoiled. And yet, we don't have a single Salt & Straw scoop shop, which started in Portland in 2011. That pleasure is reserved for the West Coast, where Tyler Malek and his cousin Kim have made an ice cream chain with thoughtful techniques and playful, inventive flavors that make us more than a little jealous. It was an exciting surprise when Tyler came to town and visited our Brooklyn office, with a freezer case of new flavors in tow, and prepared to teach us the tricks to incredible homemade ice cream using our own rooftop-grown produce.
No matter what flavors and additions you might want to throw into your own batch, ice cream is nothing without a good base. "This is the easiest ice cream base you've ever seen," Malek says of his version. Milk and cream are obvious, but a few other ingredients have been informed by Malek's years of ice cream-making.
"These three are probably the least expected. The first is nonfat dry milk, which is surprisingly common," he explains. Used by "99 percent of professional ice cream makers," he says, milk powder enriches the flavor of the finished result. The other two additions are corn syrup and xanthan gum (a thickener that emulsifies the mixture as an egg might, but without the flavor of egg).
As with baking, Malek mixes the dry ingredients in a bowl. The milk and corn syrup go into a pot, where they're warmed until the syrup is just dissolved. "Nothing needs to be heated. I don't need to heat it to activate [the xanthan gum]. I just heat it so it dissolves really nicely," he explains. Coming off the heat, he adds the cream. The base can be prepped in advance and stored for up to a week in the fridge (or even three months in the freezer, as long as you let it thaw fully before use). In any case, you'll want to make sure it's chilled fully in a fridge before moving forward.
While the base cools, we take Malek to the MUNCHIES rooftop garden to figure out what flavor of ice cream we'll end up with today. No matter what Malek decides on, we're sure it'll be tasty—as Salt & Straw's annual vegetable collection has proven, even ingredients like zucchini and beets can be delightful in ice cream form. On the roof, the ground cherries are in full swing, and the blackberry bushes are full of fruit. Malek also picks an unexpected addition: purple oxalis, a vibrant flower that you might recognize as a common houseplant. Perfectly edible, it has a pleasant, tart flavor. Everything will come together as oxalis ice cream, topped with ground cherry jam and glazed blackberries.
"We can play with this base however we want. It's great: Its sweet cream right now, and we'll add a little salt," Malek says. We could leave it as-is, but instead, he makes oxalis syrup by blending oxalis leaves with chilled simple syrup. "With these bright flavors, I want the intensity so I don't want to heat it at all," Malek says. "In my opinion, if I can distill flavors into syrups like this, then I can play with them. This is a beautiful syrup, and I can add a little bit in and I can stir my ice cream and taste it."
The next step to making ice cream is churning. Whether that's with a standalone cream maker or an attachment for a stand-mixer, the idea is the same: There's a motor spinning a blade, and a refrigerant keeping it cool. "The ice cream only freezes to the sides of the drum. As it freezes, the blade shaves it off over and over again until you have the perfect set of ice crystals in the middle," Malek says. Eventually, the mixture will visibly thicken. "The ice crystals are creating a web, and the fat particles are creating their own web, and they come together."
As that molecular "web" comes together, Malek says, it holds onto air, which is why the mixture might appear a little fluffier than the liquid base he started with. But while air is important to making ice cream, Malek stops the machine from spinning while the mixture still looks a little soupy. "In my opinion, the biggest problem people have at home is that they overspin it and they get too much air and they get too much butter," he says, which makes the ice cream too dense.
At that point, Malek puts the ice cream in the freezer. While it hardens, Malek cooks down whole ground cherries with sugar, cinnamon, salt, and lemon juice. When the skins break down completely, you're left with a sticky, golden jam, dotted with tiny seeds. Let it cool, and it can sit in the fridge for a month.
Next, he makes glazed, lightly pickled blackberries by tossing the berries in melted sugar and a bit of rice vinegar. "I think, honestly, this is my favorite trick. Just pour the berries all in and let them steep," he says. The mixture should sit in the fridge for at least an hour, but after, you can keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks.
With the jam boiled down, the berries glazed, and the ice cream solidified, assembling a sundae is easy. Just like our favorite childhood scoop shops, we drop a few scoops of ice cream into a tall fluted glass and finish it with a drizzle of ground cherry jam and a heap of blackberries.
If we can't bring the ice cream shop to the Big Apple, or to your hometown, we can at least bring the ice cream.