Inspiration at the Ice Cream Shop

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Photo by St0rmz/Flickr CC


We don't make shark ice cream or chicken dinner ice cream or any of the inane flavors an unimaginative ice cream store can create. Even our most unusual flavors come from somewhere else. Guinness is a flavor that Irish people find to be silly or offensive, but folks from Trinidad--the home country of many of our customers--eat Guinness pie and Guinness ice cream.

When the store first opened I would roam the aisles of our local market looking for things that might be good in ice cream. Many cookies are at least okay in ice cream, but most cereals turn to mush. Not Grape Nuts, which are indestructible. I was happy with the flavor's crunch and nutty taste. One customer told me that Jamaica's biggest ice cream store puts Grape Nuts into the ice cream. And later I learned that Grape Nut ice cream was also favored by older people from northern New England and Canada's maritime provinces. These people also liked Grape Nut pudding. Who knew?

Despite the economy, we were busy this year, and particularly so when summer finally arrived in August. It was also a time of surprising creativity.

Burnt caramel was an accident when we were trying to make caramel ice cream and were insufficiently attentive. Bruce Frankel, the famous chef, then a neighbor, came by the store to borrow a half gallon of heavy cream. "Just call it burnt caramel and sell it," he said. The ice cream makers looked quizzical. "Really, its very popular in parts of Spain." And for many years it has been one of our most popular flavors.

Despite the economy, we were busy this year, and particularly so when summer finally arrived in August. It was also a time of surprising creativity here in Central Square, Cambridge:

    • Chad Coffin made a Bourbon ice cream and added Vienna finger cookies. These vanilla cookies with vanilla filling taste wonderful in Bourbon ice cream.

    • Ana Sortun runs a wonderful cafe on the Cambridge-Belmont border, with food from all over the Mediterranean, especially the Turkish-Greek eastern region. At her cafe, after a long bike ride, I had a perfect strawberry pink peppercorn sharbatt, which we turned into a fine sorbet. New production chief Kevin Rafferty finalized the recipe. Like many great recipes it is familiar, but different. Strrawberry sorbet is common, but the pink peppercorns impart a special sensation.

    • One day we rummaged through old recipes and found two that we finally brought into focus. The lemon ice cream was first made for Michael Leviton's Lumiere restaurant in Newton, from a recipe provided by the chef-owner. Andy Burri took time out from his musical passions to perfect the recipe. My father is a self-proclaimed expert on lemons, and he loves the flavor.

    • Nougat is made from honey, egg whites, and nuts. After I had made a disastrous attempt to make the flavor, one in which I may have incorrectly performed every step of the recipe, Kevin Rafferty made a perfect version. The flavor had been requested by a customer for a very sick friend.

    • Alex Castagneto is no longer the chef at Boston's Estragon, a year-old Spanish restaurant near the Boston University Medical Center in Boston's South End, but he came up with the idea for a chocolate Spanish chili flavor, provided us with smoked Spanish chilis, and worked with us on an ice cream that is altogether surprising.

I used to worry about running out of ideas, but here we are also working on flavors from an Indian dessert cookbook, and a list of new flavors for the Spanish restaurant. The road goes on forever.

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Gus Rancatore is the co-founder of Toscanini, the Cambridge-based shop that The New York Times said makes "the best ice cream in the world." Learn more at www.tosci.com.

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