Summer Scenes in Old New York

The wave of superpremium, creatively flavored ice cream we’re enjoying now is relatively new, but New York has been an ice cream city since the 19th century. By the late 1800s, technology had advanced far enough to turn ice cream from a rare, expensive dessert for the elite into a traditional summer treat for the masses.

In honor of celebrating all the treats of summer, here are a few scenes from New York summers past, courtesy of the New York Public Library’s digital collections. Let them inspire you to savor the remainder of the ice cream high season before—sigh—pumpkin spice latte season sets in.

Washington Market, 1868. Before there was the Union Square Greenmarket, there was the Washington Market in what is now TriBeCa.
Washington Market, 1868. Before there was the Union Square Greenmarket, there was the Washington Market in what is now TriBeCa and the Meatpacking District.

 

A Summer Scene in the Streets of New York
Street vendor serving up ice cream, 1885.

 

Rockaway Beach, 1901. Fortunately, social norms about modesty no longer require women to swim in full-length bathing dresses.
Rockaway Beach, 1901. Fortunately, social norms about modesty no longer require women to swim in full-length bathing dresses.

 

A young boy making ice cream
Boy making ice cream cones, 1912. Child labor is wrong and all, but this seems like a pretty sweet gig.

 

Luna Park in Coney Island, 1917.
Luna Park in Coney Island, 1917.

 

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Rudy Vallée and women in an ice cream eating contest in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, at the New York World’s Fair, 1939.

 

Actors and audience members cool off with ice cream in the Theatre District's Shubert Alley, 1937.
Actors and audience members cool off with ice cream in the Theater District’s Shubert Alley, 1937.

 

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Shaved ice vendor, 1948.

 

Macbeth in Washington Square Park, 1966. An early production of the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as Shakespeare in the Park.
Macbeth in Washington Square Park, 1966. An early production of the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as Shakespeare in the Park.

Toasted Milk Ice Cream with Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes and Sesame Candy

A couple of weeks ago I borrowed a friend’s ice cream machine, a basic Cuisinart with freezer bowls, and I’ve been churning out ice cream on the regular. At this point, I have a good feel for the basics and I’ve learned that ice cream is pretty forgiving as far as recipes go. Every batch I made varied widely in ingredients and measurements, and now I don’t feel a need at all to follow anyone else’s recipe. Let the experimenting begin!

My first experimental flavor was toasted milk ice cream with sesame candy and pineapple cakes. There’s an obvious Asian influence here. Many Asian treats, such as milk toast, shaved ice, and bubble tea, incorporate milky flavor. Ice & Vice, which is Asian-owned, lists a “Toasted Milk” flavor on their website that I thought sounded delightful, but pairing it with chocolate ganache sounded a bit boring. Why not keep the Asian influence strong? There are tons of ingredients and flavors from Asian cuisine that have yet to be developed for and applied to ice cream; it’s novel territory that’s begging to be mined. It’s time we innovated beyond green tea and black sesame.

Ice & Vice's Milk Money $$$ has toasted milk ice cream.
Ice & Vice’s Milk Money $$$ has toasted milk ice cream. (via Ice & Vice)

 

It took about two seconds to decide on what I wanted to mix into this ice cream. First: Taiwanese pineapple cakes. Dense, chewy, sweet pineapple paste covered in a crumbly milk-powder crust, a childhood favorite. Second: sesame candy. Crunchy little slabs made of toasty sesame seeds and sugar. You can get both of these items at any grocery store in Chinatown (I went to Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester Street).

Traditional products of Taiwan.
Made in Taiwan.

 

To make the toasted milk in toasted milk ice cream, I toasted non-fat milk powder in the microwave, a technique I learned from Ideas in Food.  The authors of that blog said it took them 10 minutes, but I think it took me more like 30 minutes! I also overheated our microwave in the process. Anyway, the end result was perfect, a heap of fragrant crumbs that should be sprinkled on everything.

Toasted non-fat milk powder, aka magic dairy dust.
Toasted non-fat milk powder, aka magic dairy dust.

 

My go-to ice cream base is whole milk, heavy cream, sugar, and eggs. To ensure a really strong milk flavor, I swapped in condensed milk for some of the whole milk. Whole milk and condensed milk have about the same amount of fat, but condensed milk has more non-fat milk solids (the stuff that gives milk its flavor—it’s basically what non-fat milk powder is).

Milky milk milk milk.
Milky milk milk milk.

 

I ended up dumping in the milk powder all at once right before adding the eggs. Next time I make this flavor (and I will definitely be making it again), I’ll make sure to sift out all lumps in the powder, and gradually whisk it in to the rest of the milk earlier in the process. I’ll also decrease the amount of added sugar, since the lactose in milk powder naturally amps up the sweetness.

Wouldn't it have been funny if I'd dropped my phone in there while trying to get a picture?
Wouldn’t it have been funny if I’d dropped my phone in there while trying to get a picture?

 

The dark spots are the toastier bits of toasted milk.They get strained out before refrigerating.

 

So there are a few things I would’ve done differently, but I knew I had a winner when the base finished cooking. It turned out a light, warm brown color, with an intensely milky flavor similar to caramel/dulce de leche. “Like Werther’s,” according to E.S.

The finished base.
The finished base.

 

I chopped up the pineapple cakes into one-centimeter cubes and broke the sesame candy into little pieces. I felt sad when most of the crust on the pineapple cakes sheared off as it was mixed in, but it turned out that the crust was the best part. After a night in the freezer, the pineapple filling was chewy but a bit too hard for comfort, while the crust retained it’s dry, crumbly-yet-rich texture. Next time I might add a milk-powder crust only, or chop the pineapple filling into even smaller pieces. The sesame candy stayed crispy and toasty—such a perfect ice cream mix-in that I’m shocked no one else seems to be adding it to their ice cream.

Pineapple cakes are a specialty in Taiwan. I used cheap ones for this ice cream ($1.25 for a whole sleeve) but you can spend a lot more on fancy ones.
Pineapple cakes are a specialty in Taiwan. I used cheap ones for this ice cream ($1.25 for a whole sleeve) but you can spend a lot more on fancy ones.

 

The chunks of pineapple filling need to be even smaller if mixed into ice cream.
The chunks of pineapple filling need to be even smaller if mixed into ice cream.

 

Sesame candy is also called sesame brittle. The kind I used is made in Taiwan.
Sesame candy, sometimes called sesame brittle. Sesame seeds, sugar, maltose.

 

It's easier to break up by hand than to use a knife.
Break it up by hand.

 

Well, actually I can guess why scoop shops aren’t adding sesame candy to their ice cream. It’s really difficult to scoop out smoothly! It complemented the ice cream flavor and added awesome crunchy texture, but it’s an ice cream scooper’s nightmare. It also doesn’t make a great photo-op. I have no perfectly round scoops of ice cream to show for my efforts. Oh well. In real life I’m not scooping this stuff into a bowl; I’m eating it straight out of the pint.

A lumpy, ugly, delicious mess.
A lumpy, ugly, delicious mess.

Fun Things That Happened in Ice Cream This Week

Happy Saturday! We’re one week out from National Ice Cream Month, but my ice cream Google Alerts haven’t stopped buzzing, not even a little bit. Here are just a few fun things that happened this week:

OddFellows supplied boozy ice cream at Bon Appetit’s Thirsty Thursday, definitively proving that being a magazine editor in New York City is as glamorous as movies/TV make it seem. A braggy Bon Appetit employee Instagram’d the goods, which included “Frosé,” a float made from rosé sorbet and rosé, and White Russian, vodka milk sorbet topped with Kahlua crispies.

 

Food Baby NY aka Matthew Chau fully leveraged his Instagram celebrity status by celebrating his second birthday at Mikey Likes It. Fans showed up to coo over Chau and “Sesame Street,” the special flavor created for the occasion. Sesame Street was black sesame ice cream (a rather grown-up flavor—perfect for the adults behind Food Baby NY, i.e. Chau’s parents) with birthday cake and dulce de leche.

A photo posted by Food Baby (@foodbabyny) on

 

August 6 was National Root Beer Float Day, and ice cream shops wielded the obligatory hashtag, #NationalRootBeerFloatDay. Premium ice cream must float in premium root beer—Ample Hills used Sprecher, Blue Marble used Virgil’s. MilkMade went the distance and made an available-this-weekend-only root beer flavored ice cream. Made-up food holidays aside, floats and affogatos are really trending in this summer.

 

The Williamsburg location of Davey’s opened on Friday, and promotions included free ice cream, an exclusive flavor, and—this escalated quickly—a chance to win an ice cream tattoo.  It’s located in the old Williamsburg Creamery space, on Bedford Avenue between N. 6th and N. 7th streets. This is the second Davey’s location; the original shop is in the East Village.

 

And… I tried vegan ice cream at Blythe Ann’s, the East Village shop formerly known as Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, and I didn’t hate it.

Have a great weekend and eat some ice cream!

Secret Vegan Ice Cream in the East Village

A couple of days ago I had an afternoon meeting with a new friend, who doesn’t eat dairy but knows I’m obsessed with ice cream. Our worlds were reconciled when she suggested we meet at a vegan ice cream shop in the East Village. “Lula’s Sweet Apothecary/Blythe Ann’s” was what her email said.

I got there early because googling the name of the place returned some shady results, and I wanted to make sure I could find it. After squinting around East 6th Street, I espied a dark storefront with a restaurant inspection grade in the window.

You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but ice cream lies within.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but ice cream lies within.

No signage on the outside, and no signage on the inside! Peering through the window won’t help you unless you can read the menu board on the back wall. Plus it opens late—I walked up at 2:55 p.m. and the steel security gate was pulled down. You really have to know what you’re looking for to find this place. Good thing they built up a loyal customer base before going nameless. It probably helps that vegan ice cream is a very niche product, something that people actively search out. But why so incognito?

Because in 2012, the shop got caught in a nasty custody battle when its owners, Derek Hackett and Blythe Boyd, went through a nasty divorce. Word on the street is that an agreement has since been reached where Boyd could keep the shop, but not the name. Re-branding is arduous work, and so is rebuilding a post-divorce life (that’s its own kind of re-branding). I’m guessing that Boyd hasn’t had a chance to get the store’s second life in order yet. In the meantime, the shop is unofficially called Blythe Ann’s.

Fortunately, it seems that the drama has not affected the ice cream. I had never visited the shop when it was Lula’s, but my friend had been a fan for years. I’m pretty skeptical of any kind of ice cream made from “alternative” ingredients—dairy and eggs are largely responsible for the rich flavor and texture of the best ice creams—but a well-rounded aficionado needs to stay on top of the increasing number of vegan options.

The ice cream at Blythe Ann’s is made from cashew milk, which tastes strongly of cashews and has a smooth, rich texture despite relatively low levels of fat. Like other nut milks, this is achieved in part by the addition of stabilizers such as guar gum and carrageenan (some dairy-based ice creams also contain these ingredients). The available flavors were conventional, with root beer being the most unusual one. I opted for a scoop of almond butter fudge, which was served in a little glass cup since I got it to stay.

I tried, I really did, to get a shot without the glare.
I tried, I really did, to get a shot without the glare.

 

A dainty scoop.
A dainty scoop.

It definitely tasted like almond butter, but it mostly tasted like cashews. This is not a bad thing because I like cashews, but it does seem like a limitation to making ice cream out of cashew milk. It was lightly sweet, which let the cashew and almond flavors stand out. The texture was perfectly smooth and fluffy for a vegan ice cream— creamy, but light on the tongue and gone within a second or two.

Overall, a positive introduction to dairy-less, egg-less ice cream.  I can’t say that it rivals dairy-based ice cream. But I think it’s not meant to. It can stand alone for what it is, as a similar but different product. At the very least, I can file away Blythe Ann’s as the top option for when I’m with vegan friends (or if I suddenly develop a lactose sensitivity).

Blythe Ann’s
516 E. 6th Street
New York, NY 10009