I got to meet Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream earlier this month, and one topic we talked about was the differences she found between ice cream on the East and West coasts. "I found ice cream on the East Coast to be more dense and chewy. It has a totally different character than the ice cream in San Francisco made with the Straus Creamery base."
What does she mean by chewy ice cream? I'll let Kenji, who spent some of his formative years eating New England ice cream, describe it:
[It's] dense, ultra-rich, ultra-creamy ice cream that is sticky, stretchy, and chewy, almost like taffy. Ice cream you can bite with your teeth and stretch away from the cone, pulling off a bit at a time, letting it slowly melt in your mouth with not a hint of iciness or wateriness. Ice cream that you have to really eat, not just lick. Ice cream that's so dense and creamy that you can polish off an entire cone before it even thinks of beginning to drip onto your hands.
That's in reference to Steve's Ice Cream, the Boston-based ice cream shop with legions of fans that closed its operations in the late 90s. The Steve's brand lives on in a new company with some interesting flavors, but not the dense, chewy texture which fans of the old Steve's love so much.
For that, there's Herrell's, which has been open in Northampton, MA since 1980 and remains open to this day. It's run by Steve and Judy Herrell and features the recipes and techniques from the original Steve's Ice Cream. They were nice enough to send us some flavors to sample (they're currently at 200 and counting); which ones did we really dig?
Well to start, we'll say that if you have some serious nostalgia pangs for Steve's, this is probably what you're looking for. Every flavor we sampled was incredibly dense and chewy, totally devoid of ice crystals, with elastic qualities you can see from the very first scoop. It takes a kind of ice cream alchemy to get frozen dairy to do that in the first place; that Herrell's manages to make an ice cream so rich—without killing you with cream—is something of an ice cream technique triumph.
Truth be told, it's decidedly not a texture we all loved. The ice cream's pretty sticky and very taffylike—not qualities we all associate with ice cream. Herrell's is very good at what it does, but that may not be for everyone.
Were it up to me, I'd eat nothing but that Triple Malt. On its own. In sundaes. As a milkshake. It's the brightest, maltiest malt I've ever come across, and the flavor is clean from start to finish. Another strong winner: Chocolate Bourbon Pecan, which has a light cocoa flavor that lets the bright alcohol heat of the bourbon really shine. "Bourbon" in sweets is often code for "corn-tinged vanilla," but not here. This is real whiskey ice cream, with just enough pecan to bring out the nuttiness of the chocolate.
There's really no way something called Burnt Sugar 'n' Butter could be bad. But it's way more sweet and less smoky than other salted caramel ice creams we've tried, likely more amenable to mix-ins.
Private Stock Vanilla isn't the most intensely flavored vanilla we've seen on the market—if you told us it was sweet cream we'd probably believe you—but it's some great sundae fodder; a solid, if mild vanilla that really lets the texture shine.
Another benefit of ice cream this rich and dense: it's very slow to melt, so you can lay on the steaming hot fudge without risk of ice cream collapse. I've taken to making affogatos with the vanilla for the same reason.
Salty Caramel Wave would benefit from more salt and deeper caramel flavor, and Party in a Cup, a sprinkle-fied birthday cake-like ice cream, is weighed down by so much sweet cake and strawberry sauce that we had a hard time getting into more than a few spoonfuls (kids, we suspect, would go nuts over it).
As we've discussed before, ice cream texture preferences are a personal thing. One eater's soft and scoopable is another's melty nightmare. Some like their ice cream light and milky; others crave the dense, chewy richness of a Herrell's scoop, even if it's on the sticky side. If you're not sure if you'll like a scoop like this, try it anyway as part of your ice cream education. And if you know you're a fan, take comfort in Kenji's happy dance shouting: "This is the ice cream I remember!"
You can find Herrell's at their original Northampton location as well as at a scoop shop in Huntington, NY and in pints at a few Massachusetts stores. Judy Herrell also tells us that even though it's expensive to do so ($75 to $160 for 4 to 6 pints), you can get the ice cream shipped to you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.