Deep Freeze

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Now that the weather has gotten warmer, I've started making ice cream again.  Since I lack the committment to buy an expensive compressor machine to use a dozen or so times a year, I'm still using the freezer bowl attachment for my Kitchenaid.  This does a very fine job on the ice cream, but the custard must be thoroughly chilled (like, 12 hours or more) before you freeze it, and it comes out in soft serve.

The latter is actually more of a feature than a bug.  Homemade ice cream is heavier and eggier than almost any commercial version, and when it is just coming out of the freezer it is at its most delightful--simultaneously absurdly rich, and delicately evanescent.  Unfortunately it can't be preserved in that state--even serving yourself a little cup of the stuff results in, basically, a bowl of custard soup.  Like all of life's great pleasures, it is unbearably fleeting.

I probably haven't had commercial soft-serve ice cream in twenty years--basically, since Mom stopped giving me quarters for the Mr. Softee truck.  So it was nice to read our piece on Dairy Queens, and learn that other people like the same thing I do:

First off: soft serve is cheap and soft serve is low in fat. (Unlike Mayfield's claim about Blizzards, this is actually true.)

Furthermore, because soft serve doesn't freeze your mouth, it tastes better than hard ice cream. That was Grandpa McCullough's theory, anyway, and Dairy Queen boosters have treated it as gospel ever since. I haven't done a taste comparison, but I did tackle a monstrous Brown Derby (chocolate dip cone) in Aspermont (population 1,021). In size and shape, it recalled a Dr. Seuss mountain. Tens of millions of Whos could have lived on top; even with the help of my mom and dog, I couldn't finish it. Though I can't say how soft serve compares to other ice creams I've had, I will say that it was delicious--and that the structure itself was a modern-day miracle.

Finally, and most importantly, soft serve requires a machine. A machine, in turn, requires a store. Not quite solid, and made largely of air, soft serve can't survive a freezer. You can't buy soft serve in a carton. Every cone requires an excursion into the world. It is a public ice cream, meant to be eaten fresh. Following the invention of soft serve, the creation of thousands of new places to go and sit and eat it was almost inevitable.

I'll probably stick with my own machine, in my own home.  But this reminds me that maybe I ought to have more people gathered around it when I pull the ice cream out.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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