I can’t stop talking about the weather, which I guess isn’t very new to you all. I tend to do this a lot, and I think maybe I should have been a gardener or a botanist or something. I am so aware of what’s going on outside. The two years I belonged to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, I literally went every week, sometimes more than once, just to be outdoors, away from big buildings and heavy traffic, to sit in grassy fields with a book or walk through forests of fallen leaves. I’ll admit too that I feel this insane sense of wonder at the changing seasons, that watching days of rain and gusts of wind turn autumn into winter amazes me every year and that the first warm days of spring, which hint at winter’s end, are enough to make me powerfully optimistic in areas of my life that have no connection whatsoever to the weather. Even though I know what’s coming in some sense, the fact that it does and that I have absolutely no control over it makes me feel hopeful, happy to trust that which is greater than I.
Here in Chicago, we are having the most gorgeous February days I can remember—warm breezes, melting snow, the need for light jackets and not hooded parkas. I drive down the street to people jogging—wearing shorts, no less! And even though I know this can’t last, I also know we’re near the end. We are climbing down the hill of winter, with much more momentum (or at least more daylight), and I am thrilled. It’s enough to make me waltz into the produce section of the grocery store and pick up two celery roots, having no idea what their price was, let alone what I’d do with them (and then later just to chalk it up as a learning experience that one was rotted). It’s enough to make me clean and organize a bunch of files on a Saturday afternoon. And that same Saturday, while I wore a tank top and jeans and sat next to an open window, it was enough to inspire me to make ice cream.
I recently came into possession of an ice cream maker, complete with its instructional guide, and I don’t know what I was expecting, other than that it would be difficult to use. It wasn’t.
For this recipe, I was aiming for gelato—using a Serious Eats recipe that didn’t require eggs, as I only had one left. I am notorious for choosing recipes based on what I already have in the kitchen, and I substitute things much more than I should. So when I took a bite of this dessert, where I used skim milk instead of whole and coffee creamer instead of dry milk powder, what I tasted wasn’t gelato; it was ice milk. Do you remember ice milk? It used to be fairly common, a less expensive sister to ice cream but with less dairy fat, more icy and much lighter. My grandma used to keep a carton of it in her freezer, next to the orange sherbet and not far from a cabinet behind the kitchen’s swinging door, where I’d often sneak into her secret stash of cones.
I haven’t had ice milk—or really thought much about it—in years. You can’t buy it anymore. In fact, when I zip through the frozen foods section of Dominick’s or Whole Foods, I see gelato and frozen yogurt and dozens of versions of ice cream, but no ice milk. According to Wikipedia, it disappeared in 1994, when the FDA changed the rules of terminology, turning ice milk into low-fat ice cream—maybe a more marketable term, yes, but, in my opinion, much less charming. Over time, as manufacturers tried harder and harder to make low-fat ice cream taste like regular ice cream, the texture of ice milk became more and more obscure, and now, it’s just not available.
This icy, refreshing stracciatella (from the Italian for “torn apart,” like the chocolate bits in this) mixture isn’t as creamy as regular ice cream, but it’s also not as heavy. Eating a bowl of it, you feel refreshed, not overloaded. Think the flavor of chocolate-chip ice cream meets the texture of a frozen slushy or Italian ice. As you spoon dollops of it into your mouth, the strongest sensations are cold and sweet—just the way frozen desserts should be. And while it was perfectly lovely on Sunday, a February day when I drove with my windows down, the wind blowing in my hair, it’d also be wonderful in the heat of summer as an ideal way to cool down or, heck, even in the blizzards of March, which I suspect are just around the corner for some of us. After all, just because it’s technically winter doesn’t mean we have to eat like it. With stracciatella ice milk, it’s summer, at least in my kitchen, and I like it that way.
Stracciatella Ice Milk
Recipe Adapted from SeriousEats
1 quart (4 cups) skim milk
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup coffee creamer
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
Combine the milk, corn syrup and heavy cream in a large saucepan. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, gelatin and coffee creamer. Whisk the dry ingredients into the milk-cream mixture, and bring to barely a simmer, stirring constantly over moderate heat.
Remove the mixture from heat and cool. Stir in the vanilla. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator, at least four hours or overnight.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As the ice cream is churning, combine the melted chocolate and the oil. Drizzle into the ice cream for the last few minutes of churning.
Transfer the mixture into a metal loaf pan and freeze. When ready to eat, defrost for 10 to 15 minutes before attempting to scoop.