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On experimentation, and an unexpected ice cream float

Experimentation is not my strong suit. On the one hand, this means that I’m every D.A.R.E. mom’s dream child, but when it comes to the kitchen, it means that I’m, well, often not so daring.

In my defense, I come by it naturally. Not only was I an oddly fearful kid—you wouldn’t find me within a 10-foot radius of a worm, much less eating one—but I’m also a baker by nature, precise, obedient, and fiercely devoted to my digital scale. Nurture plays in too: my mother taught me from an early age that a recipe should always be followed faithfully the first time through.* You give it an honest try once, and then you can tinker to your heart’s content—if, of course, you’re into that kind of thing. I’ve been known to throw in an extra handful of candied ginger, yes, or substitute blackberries for blue, but generally, I find a deep and dependable satisfaction in following directions.

This concept is a source of perpetual amusement for Brandon, who may have never—had I not come along—completed a recipe without at least a tweaking or two. I’m the one hunched over the cookbook; he’s got his fingers in the pot. I’m reaching for the calculator; he’s sniffing at spice jars. I make a pretty soufflé, damn it, but he can spin tamarind, roasted garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano into a brilliant Italy-meets-India chutney. If I get a gold star for reading comprehension, he gets detention—and then a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. It’s all well and good, dear reader: we’re a perfect pair and so on and so forth, blah blah blah. But let’s not fool ourselves: deep down, no one really likes a teacher’s pet, including the pet herself, and slavishly following directions only feels sexy if you’re cooking in your underwear.

So I’ve been working on it. With Brandon back in New York, I have plenty of room—roughly three thousand miles’ worth—for honing my experimentation skills. And with less than two weeks to go before my next visit east, I’m happy to report that I’ve made quite a bit of progress. You can well imagine my delight when I called him to report that I’d tried a new cookie recipe—and that I’d tweaked it on the very first go.

Really? What did you change?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, the recipe called for two cups of rolled oats, but instead, I used 1 ½ cups rolled oats and ½ cup quick-cook!” I announced triumphantly. “And I used muscovado sugar instead of regular light brown!”

Needless to say, he’s still chuckling to himself.

But last night, dear reader, I gave the genius reason to be jealous.
It was simple, really. A few weeks ago, we’d picked up a bottle of Black Boss Porter, which had since been languishing in my fridge. A big, dark, roasty beer that coats the tongue with a wash of coffee, caramel, malt, molasses, and maple syrup, it’s delicious—but not exactly a prime dinner companion. So it waited, and I wondered. And then I got thirsty, as I’ve been known to do—for dessert. Running with a vague recollection of something strange I’d once read in a restaurant review, I took down a drinking glass and my trusty spring-loaded ice cream scoop. I stacked three golf-ball-size scoops of vanilla bean ice cream in the glass, popped open the porter, and poured. It fizzed; it foamed; it had all the trappings of a real experiment.

The first spoonful was luscious, like an alcoholic affogato. It was an ice cream float gone guileful, a schoolmarm with a swagger. I dug the spoon in deeper: it was complex, sophisticated, even sultry—but also strangely bitter, peppery, unpleasantly zingy with carbonation. Scooping out the last melting bites of beer-slicked ice cream, I called Brandon to confer—and, of course, to gloat. It was nobody’s unmitigated success, but with a little experimentation, it has potential.

And if I may be so daring, I think the same can be said of this teacher’s pet.

(Not Root-) Beer Float

Fittingly enough, this recipe—or rather, rough formula—needs no real directions. Begin by considering your pairings: you’ll need a dark or amber beer with a full, toasty-sweet flavor, and good-quality ice cream. For this first go, I used a bottle of Black Boss Porter, a Baltic porter from Poland, and Ben and Jerry’s basic organic vanilla—compelling enough, but a little unbalanced. Next time I think I’ll opt for a coffee or espresso ice cream to better complement the beer’s deep coffee flavors. If we’re tinkering and tweaking on the beer end of the equation, I’d recommend trying ice cream floats with any variety of porter or stout—maybe even a toasty amber or Belgian ale—or, for more tender palates, a fruit lambic, such as Lindemans. When it comes to proportions, I found that I liked a high ratio of ice cream to beer—think hot-fudge sundae with beer instead of fudge.

Whatever you do, scoop, pour, and eat. And tweak accordingly.

*Bless you, Mom. Next weekend, wanna get crazy and put the measuring cups down the garbage disposal? Don’t worry; we can buy new ones afterwards.


Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Lovely. Just lovely. And I don't care how long I have to wait for your posts (I saw your comment on your last post) - I'll keep coming back, checking, again and again - 'cause I know it will eventually be there, and without a doubt, worth the wait.

2:00 PM, August 20, 2005  
Blogger Erik said...

There is a small tasty place in Somerville MA called "Eat" with upscale home cooking. On their dessert menu is a rootbeer bourbon float. Very tasty and very likely to make you stumble on your way to the door. I'll bet there are a lot of soda-spirits-icecream combos that would prove refreshing and tasty...

5:57 PM, August 20, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Bravo, Molly! If only someone had thought of it while I was at Uni. It would have made a few parties a little classier. =)
And I have to admit that 95% of the time I use quick cooking oats in my cookies. I spend enough time cooking my steel cut oats to want to spend more than 2 minutes cooking rolled ones.

8:27 PM, August 20, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

Great idea! I will give Casey a go with that for sure!

5:48 AM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Good idea! I am the same way with recipes. I need to follow them. My mom and the husband on the other end are daredevils in the kitchen.

6:14 AM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger kickpleat said...

My friend in Portland, Or (ie. "land of beers") had tried a chocolate stout ice cream float and he raved about how great it was. I've been curious to try it out and figured I'd wait until my next trip to Portland, but now I think I might just have to pick me up some porter or stout here in Vancouver, BC and try it out on my own. Thanks!!

11:06 AM, August 21, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Congratulations! What a milestone this is! But I must warn you: once you cross the line, there is very little chance of going back! Suddenly every recipe will seem like a vague suggestion to you, and you'll find yourself peppering your posts with claims like 'inspired by...' or 'adapted from...' But most amazing is how brave you were - who would have thought that beer and ice cream go together?! Fantastic idea, and one I'll definitely try... though not without some tweaking, I'm sure. ;)

12:00 PM, August 21, 2005  
Anonymous kayenne said...

hmmm... i'm also known of substituting and changing (new)recipes. even for baking, although i keep scolding my friend, who's new to baking/cooking, from doing it. told her to at least until she's more comfortable working the stoves.

on the other hand, i'm not much of a beer drinker, but this beer float just might do it for me. thanks! ;P

11:43 AM, August 22, 2005  
Anonymous leslie said...

I'm the friend kayenne mentioned. We're the complete opposite here. I'm not contented with just following the recipes. I tend to tweak them at the 1st try. But I'm beginning to learn my lesson. I'm sort of an OC and it bugged me that I couldn't tweak an oatmeal cooki recipe to suit my taste. Decided to follow a recipe to the letter and it suited my palette:P Now, I've substitued according to what's commonly available in the market and as well as tweak it to ceompensate for the substitution:P

12:11 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Alison said...

Oh ma gawd...

Beer beer and ice cream? Wow.

I think I might try it with kriek or framboise and vanilla ice cream.

2:38 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

I'm ridiculously proud of myself if I manage to follow a recipe to the letter. Sometimes it's rewarded, too - like not salting or adding onions/garlic to a porc normandie - but my every nerve screams out to adjust things.

My mother used to say, "A recipe is an excellent place from which to depart."

3:22 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Zarah Maria, all this blushing is very bad for my skin, you know.

Erik, one of my cousins used to live in Somerville, so I'll have to ask her if she's familiar with Eat. That float sounds outrageously good...

Nic, it's never too late to get started on beer floats, although I imagine they could cause a truly nasty hangover. Maybe it's better to keep 'em from the college kids.

Thanks, Clare Eats!

Foodiechickie, it's so interesting to see how we divide into camps on the recipe-following issue! Your daredevil mother and husband are lucky to have you around; someone's got to be there to keep things from spinning completely out of control, right?

Kickpleat, a chocolate stout is one of the next things on my beers-to-float-with list! I mean, how could it be bad? Really. If you do try it, please send a full report...

Melissa, thank you, my dear. I know you're quite a recipe adventurer, and with pretty gorgeous results. Let's hope that my tumble down the slippery slope can be as graceful as yours.

Kayenne, you're a very wise advisor for your friend. I have a feeling, though, that she's a lost cause! But that's alright; she's having fun, and success...

Leslie, friend of kayenne, it sounds as though you're keeping a level head on the to-tweak-or-not-to-tweak issue. You sound like a wise tweaker. We may be opposites, but I heartily approve. I do have to admit, though, to a smug satisfaction with your admission that the oatmeal cookie recipe, followed closely, was a winner!

Alison, you're a wise woman. I hope you'll try your combinations and report back...

And Dawna, I love your mother's spirit! I think I'll take that idea and run with it, if I can let myself...

9:20 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Thanks Molly:)

10:44 AM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger nightquill said...

I once shocked a waitress and several dining companions in a restaurant by actually ordering a small dish of chocolate ice cream, a can of Guinness and an empty pint glass to make dessert. I think this combination works even better than vanilla, although I love the idea of vanilla with a lambic. My friend remembers the story:

12:15 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

hi Molly, you are a girl after my own heart. Beer and ice cream? You pulled out all the stops on experimentation. Im quite impressed. :)

2:00 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Guinness and chocolate ice cream? Nightquill, that sounds outrageously good. I think I'm going to have to make an emergency pit-stop for ingredients on the way home from work today...

And aww, thank you, Michele.

1:00 PM, August 24, 2005  
Anonymous djsaint said...

I stumbled upon your excellent post because I wanted to see if anyone out there had thought of a beer float, too. I made myself one tonight on a whim. It was not the most optimal pairing--the decidedly Texan combination of Shiner Bock and Blue Bell Old Fashioned Vanilla--but it was an excellent start. I immediately thought that I needed something heavier, like a porter or a stout, but I think coffee ice cream would have gone just fine with the bock. I love the idea of the lambic/vanilla float. What inspired me to try this was Amy's an Austin-based ice cream shop with stores here in Houston. They encourage their staff to come up with new flavors, and they always have at least two or three alcoholic flavors. They often feature beer flavors, such as Guinness, Shiner Bock, Saint Arnold, etc. and usually have something with a liquor and/or liqeuer. They are generally very innovative with ice cream--recently they were serving "Cop Stop", which is coffee ice cream with bits of doughnut in it. So maybe the next step for you is to buy an ice cream maker and start churning up some beer ice cream. Keep experimenting!

7:25 PM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made black-and-tan floats once by making a batch of Guiness ice cream (you reduce two cans of beer to a syrup and add to the custard before freezing) and seving it with Bass amber lager. Very tasty!

1:33 PM, July 25, 2006  
Anonymous Susan said...

Am so glad I found this interesting post. (Although a bit later than it was posted.)

Will definitely try it, as the ingredients are two of my favorites.


1:44 PM, July 18, 2009  
OpenID outandup said...

I know this post is a million years old, but I am currently drinking a Rogue chocolate stout/Stonyfield After Dark Chocolate float. And, wow. It might be overkill. But it might also be my new favorite dessert.

8:47 PM, May 19, 2010  
OpenID Rose said...

Even though this post is ages old, I wanted to throw in my two cents. I love doing something very similar with Peche or Framboise Lambic and either a creamy french vanilla ice cream or a mango ice cream I found at Safeway. It's more summery with all that fruity goodness and the mango works well with both the peach or raspberry.

12:42 PM, July 19, 2010  
Anonymous Kamalei said...

I can so relate to being the cautious baker to my husbandʻs maverick chef. And my mother says the exact same thing about following a recipe exactly the first time! The Maui brewing company makes an excellent toasted coconut porter. I had a float with that and a scoop of tahititan vanilla bean ice cream at the Kona Brew Fest one year--divine!

1:31 PM, August 03, 2010  

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