Milkshakes, All Grown Up


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One of the most pleasurable parts of cooking is the Eureka Moment, when an idea comes to mind that opens a clear path of discovery. The other night, a sudden brain-flash lead to discovery of a milkshake flavored with Amontillado sherry, a grown-up flavor to be sure, that in a milkshake makes an unbelievably satisfying dessert.

It is so delicious and surprising, you could serve it at a dinner party (forget classic milk shake glasses; any cool glass will do). And it is something you could rely upon when your spirits need lifting (or soaring). Fabulous Amontillado is not necessary; I use the stuff I keep around for cooking (just decent enough to drink is the rule). Mixed into the shake, its flaws miraculously disappear.

The idea did not come out of the blue--it was the product of several experiences that worked their way around my mind and memory until they evolved into the milkshake. Here's the path, for those interested in how some recipes come to be.

We dribbled some over our bowls of ice cream and sat in stunned silence, eating, finishing the pint, wanting more...

Fred Plotkin, a true sensualist who lectures and writes about food and opera, told me that on a business class flight recently, he asked the flight attendant to pour some of the vintage port they were making a big deal of onto his dish of vanilla ice cream (first Fred ate some of ice cream to make a little well to hold the port), and how divine it was. I could just imagine.

The idea haunted me for weeks until the other evening. I was going to cook dinner with my friend Josh, who has a serious wine collection. I figured he'd have some swell fortified wine open and lying around, so I asked my boyfriend to bring a pint of Häagen-Dazs Five Flavor Vanilla Bean, which is the purest-flavored commercial ice cream I know of. At the end of dinner, I told Josh about Fred's concoction and he rooted around his cellar. He looked doubtful that the bottle of Rancio wine from Southwestern France would be any good, since it wasn't in great shape (Rancio wines are wines that have been purposely oxidized, to achieve a deep nutty flavor that is at once sweet and salty). We dribbled some over our bowls of ice cream and sat in stunned silence, eating, finishing the pint, wanting more...

Which planted the connectors in my mind--a somewhat sweet, complex fortified wine and ice cream. One thing lead to a MILKSHAKE flavored with one of these wines. I pulled out some alcohols and started making little batches of vanilla milkshakes, each flavored with a different one: rainwater Madeira (the Madeira itself was off; it might work with a better one), and single-malt scotch (boozy, odd, and somehow delicious, a sophisticated rum raisin). Josh had mentioned using Marsala (perhaps thinking of zabaglione), but I'd just used up the last of it. Then I tried the Amontillado, which made me drunk with delight.

A plain vanilla milkshake proved the perfect platform for improvisation.

Amontillado and Other Grown-up Milkshakes

This is really an open-ended formula that you can scale up to serve however many you want. You make the vanilla milkshake, then add the sherry--or any other liquor you like--to taste. If you don't want to use alcohol, there are endless other flavorings to fool around with, such as malted milk powder (a lot); or a few scrapings of nutmeg; or grated Meyer lemon zest...

For 3 cups (to make a thicker shake, add more ice cream):

    • About 2 cups (1 pint) premium vanilla ice cream, softened slightly
    • About 1 cup cold milk
    • A splash or two of Amontillado Sherry or other fortified wine, or any flavoring you wish, to taste

In a blender container, combine the ice cream and the milk. Blend on high (stopping to scrape the mixture down, if necessary) until thick. Pour in the Amontillado and blend briefly; taste and adjust the flavoring, adding more sherry if you need it. Pour into glasses and serve at once.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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