Sunday, February 10, 2008

Milk Shakes or Why You Should Never Buy an Immersion Blender

A couple of years ago, I decided it was time I had an immersion blender or what some Food TV Chefs call, 'A Boat Motor.' This is basically a hand held device with a motor at the top and a blender's blade on an extension at the base. There are God knows how many versions of the simple home version I had, in what amounts to a lawn motor engine connected to an outboard boat prop. So there I was, triumphant with my purchase. I had battled the retail stores and had come home with my new toy! I immediately started sorting out ways to use my new gadget; potato soups, sauces or gravies, no none of these. Then it hit me I knew the perfect first dish… I would make the kids a milkshake! Right about now is when I should have had someone tell me to step away from the shiny wrapping on the box, to go and wait for the adrenaline to ebb. But no, I was left on my own and I immediately started working out the milkshake, knowing that success would secure my place in the kid's hearts.

Let's see milkshake, milkshakes. When you look in history, they started as a restorative given to invalids and children and typically contained whiskey. Wait, a milkshake cocktail! I would have to try that next, but the kids would come first. A milkshake is rather easy; some milk, ice cream, and flavoring if necessary and blend. Ok, I can do that:

  1. Milk. Check. Got it in four kinds; skim, 2%, half and half, and whipping cream.
  2. Ice Cream. I had some homemade in the deep freeze from a couple of days before.

I had been working out different recipes when I finally settled on a French or custard style. This is an ice cream with an egg base. Turns out most high end ice creams are egg and cream based. The egg adds an extra creaminess and stabilizes the mixture. Handy for the home cook but a bit more labor intensive. This style of ice cream dates all the way back to the 17th century when those crazy French chefs started making ice cream with 20 egg yolks per pint called Glace au Barre, "Ice Butter!" Mine was a less egg intensive and I had made sure to use an ice cream machine that would allow for extremely small ice crystals or at least as small as I could manage. Big ice crystals mean grainy ice cream; little ice crystal results in creamy, dense ice cream. Why? Ever frozen cream by itself? Think ice cube of cream. Not good enough, than look here. I'll explain.

  1. Flavor. I was going for chocolate so I used instant chocolate milk powder and syrup. (I would later regret this as I pealed children off the ceiling from the sugar high.)

So I set to work. By now, I had a hanger on anticipating my end product and I am sure somewhat doubtful of my success. Into the mixing cup I dropped three scoops vanilla ice cream, some milk and a couple of scoops of instant chocolate milk and syrup. I plunged the immersion blender blade in and pressed the button. The motor whirred and did nothing. I had just learned my first lesson. This was a home model not the industrial lawn mower engine model. I had just seized the motor and was on my way to a replacement. I reset and started more cautiously. A few moments later I was whirring away and the milkshake was coming together. The look on the small face to my side said I had achieved mythic levels of ability and would forever known as a hero. My task completed, I finished of the drink with a straw and a bit of whipped cream from the can, after first initiating the child in the time honored practice of first squirting some in your mouth. (Don't tell me you've never!). I started to clean up when another child came to my side asking if I could make her one. I, of course, agreed and before long had made a couple more. When I decided since I had come this far, I would try my hand at the cocktail version for Sharon and myself. For this I went with Godiva Chocolate liqueur, a shot of vodka, some half and half, and the ice cream. Sharon was amazed and appreciative and I am sure I had taken on a new luster of manliness. (I can dream!). I cleaned up and set back to bask in my glory.

Had the story ended here all would be well, but the next day I was asked for a repeat performance. I was tired from work but agreed and repeated the whole process, happy to see everyone with their desserts, and again sure that I was winning my place in their hearts. By day five, I had come to hate my new blender. I secretly cursed the shiny packaging and the retailer. The phrase, "KC, can I please have a milkshake?", began to echo in my ears, and I could sense the coming of the request. My life had taken a turn; I was now the slave of the immersion blender and the milkshake. Thankfully, the motor would burn out after a few months (seems if you keep purposefully locking up the blade, the motor will eventually give up the ghost), and I would get the Cuisinart I have today. I then proceeded to let everyone know that this was not the same as the last one and it could not make milk shakes. Of course, this was a lie. This new machine was a definite upgrade, but I had made a lie of self preservation and, as such, it was a good, happy, white lie. Yes, this is a rationalization and an excuse but can you blame me?!? I still get the requests for a milk shake, but now I use the stand blender and make a big show of the work involved. Sharon rolls her eyes and just chuckles at my play acting.

So friends and neighbors, take my advice. The next time you're at the store and you spot that bright shiny wrapping on the immersion blender, stop and remember this simple phrase "KC, may I please have a milkshake?"

What's all this talk of Ice crystals!

All Ice cream consists of these basic parts; Ice Crystals, Concentrated Cream and Air. If you look at ice cream through a microscope you would see ice crystals and coating them would be a highly concentrated liquid of sugar and milk proteins (by the way this mixture of sugar and proteins won't freeze until 0o/-18oC. That's why your grandmother's ice cream maker had you add salt to the ice. The salt lowered the freezing temperature of the ice, that's also why you salt roads in the winter.) Next to this is an air bubble or pocket. So, if the ice crystals are big, the pockets of air are big and the whole thing is grainy. Think slush. But if you start churning the frozen mixture the ice crystals start to break up. The crystals get smaller the air pockets get tighter and everything starts looking and feeling creamier. The best ice creams have worked out a balance between these three parts typically water is 60%, sugar is 15% and milk protein is 10%-20%.

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