Two new shops in Fairfield are making your ice cream right in front of you. With new freezing techniques and a fresh-is-best ethic, Milkcraft and Freezing Moo take your cream from fresh to frozen and plain to flavored in a matter of minutes.
And what flavors they are! Blue Cookie Butter, Bourbon Breakfast, and Strawberry Balsamic are some you’ll find at Milkcraft. (Watch out for the blue stuff, you’ll be grinning like a ghoul for a few hours after.) Pink Lady, Green Giant, and Rock Chalk Cherry stand out at Freezing Moo.
Traditionally, ice cream has to have some whipping action to incorporate the air that yields its luxurious creamy texture. If you just freeze cream you just get creamy ice cubes. At Freezing Moo the cream is frozen in a thin layer on a very cold stainless steel surface – like a cold crêpe iron or a circular anti-griddle. At Milkcraft, the cream is whipped in a mixer with liquid nitrogen in a showy cloud of mist.
At Freezing Moo the main flavors are put on the griddle – oreos, strawberries, candy – whatever you ordered. Then the ice cream baristas spill the cream on the surface. They immediately begin stirring and chopping the mix, blending in the flavors at it freezes – like scrambled eggs in a skillet. When the texture is just right, the frozen, flavored cream is troweled out in a thin layer. If you want chocolate syrup, it’s painted on as a portrait or picture – very cute.
At the magic moment, the ice cream is scraped into delicate scrolls as the knife pushes across the surface, like ice on your windshield in winter. It’s a pretty neat trick. Even though it’s not really whipped, the final product has a creamy texture, a great mouthfeel, and it’s nice and cold. Because of the delicate scrolls, it’s always served in a cup, generously decorated with three toppings of your choice.
Milkcraft uses the machine power of a line of industrial strength stand mixers to thrash the cream. The cold comes from liquid nitrogen drawn from a tap next to the mixer and poured into the mixing bowl with an impressive display of mist, creating a magician’s showbiz aura.
Bubble cones are made on a line of waffle irons right in the store. The fresh made, crispy waffles are every bit as delicious as the ice cream. With a little crunch and great waffle flavor, they double the pleasure of the ice cream. The final product is rich and creamy, firmer than soft-serve but not quite as hard as scooped. The cone is in a sturdy cardboard holder, but you’d better eat quickly before it gets messy.
Both stores are set up like a coffee shop. You order and pay first, a helpful cashier explaining the process and advising you on flavors, toppings, and add-ons. The order is passed on to the baristas, who whip up your treat while you watch. Getting the show is part of the fun. The staff at both stores was upbeat, smiling, engaged with customers, and looked like they were having a ball.
Remember those old-time hand-crank ice cream machines with the wooden barrel full of ice and the metal cylinder down the center? You could eat all you wanted, because you had to work for it – calories out, calories in. It was a special treat and a family occasion.
Ice cream went big time at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain. Twenty-eight flavors was their promise, and the scoops had those unique conical shapes.
Baskin Robbins took the world by storm with thirty one flavors, one for each day of the month. Then Ben and Jerry came along and put some pizazz in the ingredients. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry were eclipsed by Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey.
In the made-to-order shops the flavors and toppings are even more exotic. At Milkcraft I had Smokin Choco de Leche: Valrhona chocolate and dulce de leche topped with black sea salt in a bubble cone. The salt made the whole delicious thing very grownup. Marsha’s Blue Cookie Butter had a “Creamee” texture and buttery flavor and was dusted with Speculoos cookie crumbles.
Going for something a little less exotic, I picked Oreo Cookie Monster at Freezing Moo. A whole Oreo was chopped into the cream right on the cold griddle and then the chocolate syrup put on as a portrait. Topped with two more oreos, some whipped cream, and more chocolate sauce, it was plenty chocolaty. Marsha went more mainstream, too, with a Pink Lady. Fresh strawberries and graham crackers took center stage on the griddle. The finished scrolls had true fresh berry flavor and the unique presence of graham crackers.
Both places will be open year-round, but now’s the time of year when ice cream tastes the best. Get there in the afternoon if you can, I understand they’re jammin in the evening. These hi-tech ice creams take a few minutes to create, but they’re deliciously worth the wait.