New recipes

Stephen Colbert Makes His Ice Cream of the Future

Stephen Colbert Makes His Ice Cream of the Future


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

He beats out Jimmy Fallon in their Ben & Jerry's ice cream war

When Ben & Jerry's released a Jimmy Fallon-themed "Late Night Snack" flavor, Fallon challenged his viewers to come up with things to do with Colbert's "Americone Dream" flavor, other than eat it.

Well, Colbert took Fallon up on that offer and decided to have his flavor replace Dippin' Dots as the ice cream of the future. Watch below as he levitates a mini-cup of Americone Dream.


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”


This Is the Future of Ice Cream

Were Nick Morgenstern a pastry chef in France, the spiritual home of his profession, career options would have been plentiful once he left the restaurant business. Any French village, town or city would have welcomed a pastry shop, a bakery, or a chocolate shop, all feverishly beloved and fervently patronized.

Morgenstern happens to work in America, where dreams go in different directions. Such stores are uncommon here, and when they exist, they tend to be more commercial than entrepreneurial. Auspiciously, when he started in the restaurant business more than 15 years ago at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, he was selected to make ice cream, a job for a beginner. It was as though the frosty finger of fate had pointed him out. “I’m the kid they grabbed,” he says. “I’m 20. I’m watching ice cream come out of the machine. “He pauses to recall every detail of the LB 100 air-cooled compact batch freezer, and continues. “I’m thinking, ‘Ice cream is it for me. That’s it.’ I don’t have a particularly good memory, but I remember standing there.”

He is now the owner of Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, which opened several months ago on Rivington Street in New York. The designation is not an exaggeration, because in the field of ice cream, he is the next big thing. He is treating ice cream as a cuisine, not a confection, referring to it as “a dessert experience in a cone or a cup, an appreciation of subtlety.” His flavors deliver both happiness and sophistication, a combination not easily achieved.

Until now, ice cream has been a pleasant element of the American dream, a small business offering a modest means of making a living, now and then a magnificent one, as Ben and Jerry found out. Almost anybody can make ice cream reasonably well, and reasonably well has usually been good enough. Scoop shops, and Morgenstern’s is one, are practically immune to economic downturns, do not require extensive training, and are so instantaneously appealing that everyone in the neighborhood lines up when a new shop opens up. Americans buy ice cream regardless of their financial circumstances, the way depression-era families bought movie tickets in the 1930’s, whether they could afford them or not.

As in most businesses, trends are commonplace. In recent years, the emphasis in ice cream has been on gimmicky innovations such as Ben & Jerry’s sugary cores, which the company optimistically calls an “uber-indulgence,” and on excess butterfat, the idea being to reach for the outer limits of 16 or 17 percent. (Anything higher basically transforms ice cream into a chilly breakfast spread.)

Morgenstern had a different objective. He was certain American wanted better ice cream, not sweeter or creamier ice cream. He refers to this latent desire as “an oil field,” untapped. Although he is only 36, he had already been to the top of the pastry profession, serving as executive pastry chef of both Gilt and Gramercy Tavern. He embraced a role model, David Chang, chef-owner of the Momofuku restaurants. “If David Chang says we can do something new with food,” he says, “how the hell has ice cream been overlooked?”

Chang isn’t a pastry chef, of course, and the preparation of pastry is significantly different from cooking savory food. Pastry is primarily about precision, science, and discipline, whereas Chang’s food was shocking, offering new colors, new combinations, and new consistencies. Chang transformed the restaurant business through ground-breaking originality, while Morgenstern is trying for the same outcome by means of classic techniques. The results are similar: Chang’s food made your eyes widen in admiration, and Morgenstern’s ice cream will do the same.

These days the ice cream industry is inundated with every sort of concoction, way too many. The business is out of control, sometimes in delicious ways but too often not. New flavors from Ben & Jerry’s and other packagers tend to be sweet bombs rather than coherent ice creams. Incomprehensible dazzle has replaced simple delight. Breyers, the ultimate store-bought ice cream of my childhood, has been changing its formulas, transforming ice cream into “frozen dairy dessert” that vaguely resembles ice cream but has little or no cream and is mostly sweet. My two favorite Breyers flavors, peach and vanilla fudge twirl, are now inedible.

We are experiencing a dizzying increase in the number of pre-packaged pints, which are expensive and generally not much different from everyone else’s pre-packaged pints. I could make no sense of this trend economically until I contacted Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy e-newsletter, who explained that everyone wants to be the next Ben & Jerry, and pints are the perfect experimental form: “It’s also the perfect size to charge a premium (on a per ounce basis) without scaring the consumer,” she wrote me, adding, “A consumer is likely willing to pay $5.00 for a pint of some funky new flavor but would never consider paying $40 for a gallon of the same stuff.”

You need taste only two of Morgenstern’s flavors, the raspberry-orgeat and the cardamom-lemon jam, to understand the mind of a pastry chef at work, and to experience the pleasure of spectacular combinations and original thinking. In raspberry-orgeat, fresh raspberries are combined with a housemade version of a French syrup called orgeat, which is a blend of mostly almond with a touch of orange. The end result is intensely flavorful and taste-bud-tingling. It will stop your tongue in its tracks.

The cardamom-lemon jam is a product of two eras, the mix-in mania of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the recent cardamom craze. (Morgenstern believes cardamom is nearly worn out as a trend and will soon be out of fashion.) Cardamom possesses an elusive flavor profile that to me is somewhat Middle Eastern, with hints of clove, nutmeg and allspice. When you order cardamom-lemon jam, a counterperson reaches into a freezer for a tub of cardamom ice cream, drops in a spoonful of housemade lemon jam, then scoops the blend into a cone or a cup. It’s my favorite flavor in the store, the most vivid mix-in ever conceived.

Morgenstern says of his ice creams, “We treat them as food, not as ice cream. We talk about them the way you’d talk about food.” He takes inspiration from whatever ingredients come his way, then decides how to proceed, in the same way a savory chef looks at the products in a market and decides what dish he can summon, the standard process of culinary creation. “Next,” he says, “I ask myself if the words sound good enough. The ice cream has to look good, but it also has to sound good on the menu. I won’t make it without that.” Once the potential flavor has passed those tests, he develops the recipe. Each one is different, start to finish.

Almost all ice cream shops work from a single base, a combination of milk, sugar, eggs, and cream. Into the mix go flavorings and other ingredients, which are churned and frozen. The process is simple and usually good enough. At Morgenstern’s, every base is made to order to suit the flavor. Most ice cream shops use considerable sugar. Morgenstern does not. “Sugar doesn’t taste like anything,” he says. They tend to exaggerate the butterfat content, because that’s what consumers have learned to admire, but Morgenstern says, “Do you butter your toast on both sides?” And he almost always skips the egg, believing it masks flavor. His ice cream has no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no thickeners, none of the additives that offer protection, much like the armor plating on a tank. When I ask him if he’s ever tempted to use them, he replies, “I wouldn’t know how.” Ice cream without additives tends to be creamy, silken, and quick to melt. If you’re holding a cone of additive-free ice cream on a hot day, you might feel it dripping down your arm.

When he explains how many different kinds of freezers he needs for producing, storing, and serving his ice cream, he sighs. “It’s a fiasco,” he says. Nothing he does is simple, not even the manufacture of sparkling drinks, most made in the store. He’s currently working on cream soda, which I always believed was made with vanilla. He corrected me. His syrup will be sassafras.

He is not the only post-pastry chef entrepreneur to enter the ice cream business. Before him was Jake Godby (ex-Coi) of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, and Sam Mason (ex-wd-50) of OddFellows in New York. In tastings past and present, I’ve liked their products—who doesn’t like well-made ice cream?—but I’ve found them intellectual and quirky, more attuned to the tastes of the owners than that of their customers. Humphry Slocombe’s most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which contains bourbon and corn flakes. (Great name, by the way, maybe the best ever.) The OddFellows Shop in Brooklyn has a mounted and framed picture of a fellow who looks like Jesus holding an ice cream cone. (If it’s not Jesus, it’s the twin brother we never knew he had.) Both shops are a little peculiar, and if an ice cream shop has a mission in life, it’s to make people feel at home.

Ample Hills, a well-received scoop shop in Brooklyn, is enormously enticing if you’re a 12-year-old or a grown-up wishing to regress. I bought an oversized, stupefying, free-form, and fabulous hot fudge sundae large enough for two and took it to a booth. As I sat there, trying to eat, kids climbed over my table to reach a churning machine resembling a bicycle that’s displayed in the window of the shop. I got up and moved to the back, which is set up to mimic a daycare center. I ignored the plastic stove and the toy cash register and ate my sundae while reading Garth Pig and the Icecream Lady by Mary Rayner. (Pretty scary, I admit.) Ample Hills offers a pleasant escape from the nightmare that is adult existence in New York.

When I was a kid, the sundaes at ice cream parlors were of two types: the reasonable ones capable of receiving parental approval and the psychotic ones with names like Pig’s Dinner that I was forbidden to consider. Years later, in 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s just outside the city of Cambridge, and created the mix-in, the seminal achievement in the field of ice-cream, opening it up to limitless concoctions. He was the Steve Jobs of the ice cream industry. The most recent upgrade was more subtle, about organic milk bases and thoughtfully conceived flavors, best exemplified at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Morgenstern’s shop doesn’t look much different from any of the others, although it’s startlingly small, a consequence of Manhattan rents. Walk right in—well, you probably can’t after sundown, when the urge for ice cream overcomes New Yorkers and a line stretches along Rivington Street. Once you get through the door, which might take 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see a modern, clean-cut set-up, all black and white, possibly a tribute to the black-and-white sodas (chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream) I loved as a kid. You might see older couples sitting close together at the junior-high-style desks that line the wall just inside the entrance—which, unfortunately, is also the exit. They will be sweetly eating their cones, oblivious to the crowds, feeling young again, if only for as long as it takes for their burnt honey vanilla or salted chocolate to melt. “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience that automatically brings childhood memories, even if you were born in 1922,” Morgenstern says. “When I opened the shop, I didn’t know I was tapping into preschool nostalgia.”

Once in line, you will surely become impatient as you wait your turn. The menu posted on the wall overhead is incomplete, doesn’t provide quite enough information, which results in long conversations at the counter between ice cream eater and ice cream order-taker. Unfortunately, there is only one of those. However, you’ll notice numerous people filling orders, working with urgency, constantly opening and closing tiny freezer doors, pulling out small tubs of ice cream, dropping scoops into bowls, carefully putting the containers back. Watching them reminded me of the drivers of the old Good Humor trucks who opened and closed innumerable doors in search of the popsicle the customer wanted, toasted almond in my case. The order taker will be patient and pleasant, offering as many tastes as you desire and chatting endlessly about whatever is on the customer’s mind. I vividly recall listening in on an endless discussion of sugar vs. corn syrup during the Passover holidays. I was next in line, wondering if my ordeal was much different from that of the Jews who trudged across the desert for 40 years.

The ice cream flavors include five different kinds of vanilla, a manifestation of the mind of a pastry chef. “People in pastry will want those,” Morgenstern says. “The vanillas are the real thing if you are interested in how to do vanilla.” There are five kinds of chocolate, plus a chocolate sorbet, made without cream, and an American egg, made with eggs. His less somber creations include a Mulie Fajitas Picosos Classic (a sundae of vanilla ice cream, fudge, chile peanuts, Junior Mints and an admonition, “Don’t make a mess of yourself”) and a King Kong Banana Split (five scoops of ice cream and a single sliced banana in an old-fashioned glass dish that’s too small for the contents, pretty much guaranteeing a mess.)

He uses Counter Culture coffee for his three different coffee flavors, the best of them coffee crunch. A friend of mine ate a cup and said, “No other coffee ice cream will ever make me happy again. “Counter Culture espresso makes a bravura appearance in his inordinately intense affogato—cold espresso in a bowl with a scoop of whatever ice cream you select, obviously vanilla if you can ever decide which of the five you want.

He has three kinds of caramels. In a shop basically without perverse flavors, his unsalted caramel is surely one. It’s his rebellion against the salted caramel craze, which he believes must end. “You can eat just so much salted caramel,” he says. The unsalted caramel is his idea of a protest.

"How’s the battle going?" I asked.

"The unsalted caramel doesn’t sell," he replied. "I’m going to have to adjust the recipe, change it to butterscotch."

Five years ago, Morgenstern was managing the General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He rented a tiny space in the basement to make ice cream, built an ice cream cart equipped with Yamaha motorcycle wheels, and started selling scoops just outside the front door, two for $3. He did everything himself, with his own hands and his own labor, a signature of his career. He put together the shop on Rivington St. almost singlehanded.

He says what he is doing is a struggle, a sacrifice. He works six days a week, sometimes seven, which he calls real work, “not sitting in a chair, dreaming of a new ice cream flavor, and calling that work.” He says that for most of his working life his paycheck was $400 a week, and that his is a story of perseverance. While he was building Morgenstern’s finest Ice Cream, he was living in a 150-square foot apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, located in the same building as the restaurant Carbone. He was paying $900 a month rent and says he’d still be there if the building hadn’t been sold. He never had a credit card until the shop was nearly finished and he desperately needed equipment, so he got one and used it to buy an espresso machine.

He could have taken on investors, but he has not. He says they always demand expansion, insist on operating more commercially, request gonzo flavors. That’s the way other ice cream entrepreneurs operate, but not him, not that he isn’t tempted. He smiles, considering what would come of it. “five years from now,” he says, “Morgenstern’s could be making ice cream with a core of graham crackers, surrounded by marshmallow graham-cracker fluffernutter, and I could be on a boat somewhere.”



Comments:

  1. Josias

    You are wrong. I propose to discuss it. Write to me in PM.

  2. Reilley

    The interesting topic, I'll take part.

  3. Brarn

    I have removed this message

  4. Gariland

    What necessary words... super, excellent idea

  5. Kagagar

    Certainly. I agree with told all above. We can communicate on this theme. Here or in PM.

  6. Derik

    In my opinion you are wrong. Enter we'll discuss it. Write to me in PM, we'll talk.



Write a message