BraveTart »

Food and Wine Best Pastry Chef winner Stella Parks recreates and re-imagines childhood favorites into sophisticated modern desserts.

BraveTart: In the Hall of the Dairy Queen

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[Photographs: Sarah Jane Sanders]

Our Fauxreo-fueled time machine skids to a halt on the sweltering black top of a Dairy Queen parking lot, smack dab in the middle of summer of 1985.

Having just visited 1983's Cookies 'n Cream, the Oreo Blizzard may seem an insufficiently unique destination. A lazy observer might describe them as the same element in different phase states. But we know in our hearts a Blizzard is not a Cookies 'n Cream milkshake.

Cookies 'n Cream comes from Baskin-Robbins, gray with Oreo crumbs and studded with quarter inch sized pieces and rare, euphoria inducing chunks. The eponymous cream serves only as a force with which to bind the Oreos in frozen pleasure.

Oreo Blizzards, conversely, come from the fair hand of the Dairy Queen. While unarguably a King in its own right, Oreo humbles itself before her, using its natural affinity for milk not, as when dunked in a glass, for its own gain. Rather to provide an element of contrast to highlight her unnatural beauty.

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A Blizzard's soft serve boasts unmatched purity of flavor. But the flavor of what? Certainly not eggs. Nor vanilla, which serves a supporting role at best. The obvious answer would seem "dairy" but the refined Dairy Queen wouldn't approach the flavor of fresh cream or milk with a ten foot spoon.

So what does the dairy in a Blizzard taste like? It tastes like a blizzard.

No, I'm not speaking in koan. Notice my intentional lack of capitalization. A Blizzard tastes like cold, creamy whiteness. Frosty simplicity. The way we, as children, imagined snow might taste in Candyland.

An idea of such beauty! With the Blizzard, Dairy Queen put the art in artificial.

To capture that poetic flavor, they started with dairy pasteurized within an inch of its life, an obscene quantity of sugar, chemical soup to keep the unnatural mixture homogenized, and artificial flavor. Yeah... Let's stick to the art half.

Starting with the vanilla base we used for Cookies 'n Cream, we'll slash the already paltry amount of eggs in half. This yields a pro dairy/low custard flavor and splendidly white color.

Then, instead of a neutral liquor to keep the mixture creamy, we'll use Frangelico. Or, what we in the industry call a "secret ingredient." I can't tell you how or why Frangelico works, just that something about its vaguely nutty, every so slightly cocoalike flavor, when used in moderation, mimics a Blizzard's flavor chemical cocktail with extreme precision.

Finally, a little help from an unexpectedly high brow ingredient, Tahitian vanilla.

I discovered this trick quite by accident. I'd gone to great lengths to make Tahitian vanilla ice cream for an event. I wanted to pit two Tahitian vanilla ice creams against each other in a blind tasting. One would use all organic and local milk, cream, and eggs. The other, grocery store dairy and eggs. At the tasting, clients swooned over the local ice cream, gushing on and on about the rich dairy flavor and beguiling, buttery notes. The ice cream made with conventional dairy and eggs got high marks too, but for its clean vanilla flavor.

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Without the richness of good quality milk, cream, and eggs to bolster it, the Tahitian vanilla sang a simple song. But I didn't learn my lesson until I shared the local dairy version of the ice cream with my brother. He took a spoonful, closed his eyes, and lost himself in thought as the ice cream melted over his tongue. He furrowed his brow, struggling to find the right words. I waited with baited breath, and then he spoke.

"Kinda has a certain, you know, nuance of Lucky Charms marshmallows."

This! The literal crème de la crème of local ingredients! My pinnacle of refinement! I gathered myself; tried to help him put a finer point on it. "Right on! I definitely see what you mean. The sweet flavor of dairy, with the fruity and floral notes of Tahitian vanilla could definitely give that sense. In fact, 'cereal' is a commonly cited aspect of Tahitian vanilla's pro--"

"Dude. No. I dare you. Take another bite and tell me that it's not spot-on Lucky Charms Marshmallow."

Fine, whatever. It's just semantics. I took a bite, dropped my spoon. Damn it! Lucky freakin' Charms. My brother, born in 1985: the Year of the Blizzard, was on to something.

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From that moment, I had to find out what Tahitian vanilla, regarded as one of the most elegant of all vanillas, could possibly have in common with Dairy Queen and Lucky Charms.

Compared to beans coming from Mexico or Madagascar, Tahitian vanilla has especially high levels of piperonal, also known as heliotropin, aka boring detail. This essential oil essentially gives Tahitian vanilla its characteristic floral, fruity qualities. Ages ago, scientists developed cheap, reliable means of synthesizing it. So cheap and easy that artificial piperonal comes at a lower cost than vanillin, the most common of artificial vanilla flavors. Or stated differently: even the cheapest, penny pinching companies steer clear of synthetic piperonal's weird taste.

Dairy Queen won't disclose how they flavor their soft serve other than to admit "artificial flavorings." Legit products like Nutella and Oreo proudly boast "vanillin" as an ingredient, an additive without shame in the realm of junk food.

Ironically, we'll use Tahitian vanilla's real piperonal to mimic the synthesized stuff. Madagascar vanilla or even cheap grocery store imitation vanilla (made from vanillin), will give an entirely different flavor, one not conducive to culinary time travel.

Use this "soft serve" recipe to recreate any of your favorite Cool Treats: the Dilly Bar, DQ Sandwich, or dipped cone. Use Oreos or Fauxreos to make your Blizzard, or whatever mix-in will power the flux capacitor in your heart.

Get the Recipe

Homemade Oreo 'Blizzards' »

Until next week, friends. In the meantime, go ask your mom for some quarters. The ice cream truck is coming...

About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com.

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