Sunday, June 16, 2024

Book Review: Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode

This has got to be the strangest ice cream book I own. I like daring and unusual flavors, but this one takes the cake (pun absolutely intended). I've read through it pretty carefully and tried a caramel sauce from the book, though not any of the ice creams yet, and well ... it's weird. It's not bad by any means, just unexpected.

Not because of its unusual flavors (of which it has many), but in its combination of flavors. Most ice cream cookbooks include recipes for three things: 1) classic flavors, 2) house specialties, and 3) mix-ins and toppings. 

Every ice cream shop is going to have the classics: vanilla, chocolate, mint, caramel, strawberry, coffee, etc., and most ice cream cookbooks are going to include the author's take on those. S&S on the other hand has only one, a recipe for double-fold vanilla.   All the other house specialties utilize classic flavors (strawberry-honey balsamic with black pepper ice cream, or salted sweet cream ice cream with caramel ribbons). 

In other words, this book leans extremely heavily on the house specialties (which I kind of like), and I love trying new combinations and unusual flavors. But ... ice cream happens to be something that is reliably vegetarian (if not vegan), and this book isn't an exception, not exactly. As a long-time mostly-vegetarian, that is also something I appreciate, but as a pragmatist, I'm fine with the fact that most ice cream books are going to have at least one recipe that includes candied bacon, and there is one such offering here (bacon caramel). 

But it doesn't stop with bacon; the irony makes me giggle a little. It has recipes for/including turkey (turkey skin/stock/boullion/fat), chicken (stock/boullion/fat/skin), gelatin, and …. pork blood. Take a gander:

  • Xocolatl De David’s Bacon Raleigh Bar Ice Cream (gelatin and bacon)
  • Chocolate "Sardines" Ice Cream (gelatin)
  • Creepy Crawly Critters Ice Cream (candied bugs)
  • Grandma Dracula’s Blood Pudding Ice Cream (pig blood)
  • Buttered Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Ice Cream (chicken stock and bouillon)
  • Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey Ice Cream (turkey stock, bouillon, and skin)

Some of the omnivorous recipes actually sound pretty good, and if I still ate meat, I'd happily give them a try (the Xocolatl one is salted sweet cream ice cream with chocolate-covered pecans, caramel infused with bacon, and chocolate marshmallow nougat, and the "Sardines" recipe is chocolate with chunks of Swedish Fish-infused jello). There is one I might learn to like if I could get past the crunchy chitin from bugs (the creepy crawly flavor is tequila, orange, and matcha ice cream with chocolate-covered crickets and coconut-toffee candied insects). But the last three kinda turn my stomach (brandied chocolate pig's blood, mashed potato ice cream with white chocolate/chicken bouillon ripple, and turkey ice cream with turkey skin brittle).  I don't think I'd like those even if I were still omnivorous. 

But those recipes aside, 51 of the 57 recipes are vegetarian, and there are many that sound great, in particular Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon Ice Cream, Almond Brittle With Salted Ganache Ice Cream, and the Honey-Lavender.  There are many others that sound delicious as well. 

As for the mix-ins, they are pretty standard, including the usual chocolate sauces and brittles, cookies, and brownies.  The caramel sauce is really quite excellent - it remains pliable when frozen (kitchen chemistry to the rescue!), instead of turning hard like stiff taffy the way most caramels do when cold.

It uses a philosophy that I really like, providing three different bases to which you add flavorings: an ice cream base, a sorbet base, and even a vegan ice cream base. 

The vegan base is another area where they get weird.  First of all, the presence of a base suggests that it's neutral-flavored and easily adaptable, but in this case they only use it in a single recipe, and they give zero instructions for using it with other flavors.  In fact, their vegan base probably cannot be widely used as it is STRONGLY coconutty, and the coconut would overshadow most other flavors.  So, this feels (particularly in the context of a meatier-than-usual offering) almost phoned-in, included so they can claim it's vegan-friendly when it really isn't. 

So: if you are looking for dairy-free desserts, look elsewhere (it doesn't even include sorbets which are typically vegan). But if you are interested in interesting flavors, this might be a fine choice.

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